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Wednesday, 29 November 1905

Senator PLAYFORD (South Australia) (Minister of Defence) - Recently I informed the honorable senator that the Auditor-General is a servant of the Parliament, not of the Ministry. He does not take any command from the Ministry, he is in a perfectly independent position. I have inquired why his report for the past financial year has not been issued. I have been informed that it is because, in some cases, the necessary vouchers to show the accuracy of the statements issued by the Treasurer have not been forthcoming in time. There is very great trouble at times in getting necessary vouchers from outlying parts of the Commonwealth. Although the Treasurer bases his statement on what he believes to be accurate information, still that information has not been checked with the necessary documents. The Auditor- General waits for the whole of the documents to come in from the Departments, and if one Department is a little lax in that regard, it tends to delay the compilation of his report. I know that the Treasurer has done all that he possibly could to expedite the supply of the necessary information to the Auditor-General, so as to enable his report to be prepared. Everything is being done on the part of the Ministry to help this officer. I fear, however, that if the Treasurer delivers his Budget early in the financial year, say, in July or August, it will be impossible for the Auditor- General to be supplied with the information in time to enable him to make a report which will be available for, at all events, the House of Representatives, when the Estimates are being dealt with. At the same time, I think that matters might be expedited, so that before the Senate considers the schedule to the Appropriation Bill, the report may be furnished. We will do all we possibly can next year to secure the accomplishment of that very important object.

Senator STEWART(Queensland).- It is reported in the newspapers that Mr. Israel, the Auditor-General, insists upon having his own staff in each State. He says that there must be no divided allegiance, and that the officers who do auditing for the Commonwealth must be Commonwealth servants.

Senator Mulcahy - That is rubbish.

Senator STEWART - It appears to me to be rubbish, and unless strong reasons are given why such a course should be adopted, I shall oppose it. It amounts to duplicating audit staffs all over the Commonwealth. In each State there is an Auditor-General, with his staff who, previous to Federation, audited the accounts of the Post Office, Customs Department, and the Defence Department. Why should they not continue to do that work under the supervision of the Commonwealth AuditorGeneral ? It is all very well for the Federal Auditor-General to say that he must have his own staff. I have no doubt that he would like that to be the case. So, probably, should we. But we must have some regard) to the financial conditions of the States. We might very well proceed under the present system, at least for some time longer. The Minister of Defence says that it would not be possible to present the Auditor-General's annual report in. July or August, when the Treasurer makes his financial statement. No one expects that. Probably the vouchers do not come in before the end of July. Certainly a month would not be sufficient for the preparation of the report. But this is not the month of August. We are now in November. The report, in all likelihood, will not be ready until December, when it will be of no earthly use to us in considering the schedule to the Appropriation Bill. One of the principal objects in appointing the Auditor-General was to insure correctness in the payments, and that the law was obeyed in all particulars. But under the present system we might as well have no such official. I trust that an effort will be made to hurry up the report in future.

Senator PLAYFORD(South Australia - Minister of Defence). - I will read what the Auditor- General has to say in reference to this matter -

At present in States other than Victoria the. audit is performed by the State Audit Staff, the State Auditor-General acting as deputy for the Commonwealth Auditor-General, for which service he receives an allowance of£100 per annum. . . . The Auditor-General has reported that the present arrangements are unsatisfactory, as the tendency is to subordinate Federal for State work, and in some States the audit had been allowed to get considerably into arrear. Mr. Israel estimates a saving in Commonwealth expenditure under the new system of £2,000 per annum. He also considers that a more effective system of audit will be secured.

We pay the States for services, which their auditing staffs render, the following amounts : - New South Wales, . £2,325 ; Queensland. £1,928; South Australia, £1,000; Western Australia, £1,497 ; Tasmania, £400; making a total of £7,150. In Victoria we do not use the State staff. The work is done by the Auditor-General's staff. Of course, if the present system is altered, these allowances will cease, and their place will be taken by salaries and travelling expenses ; but the AuditorGeneral anticipates that there will be a saving of £2,000

Senator Stewart - Does he give an estimate of salaries?

SenatorPLAYFORD.-No; it would be impossible to do so at this stage.

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