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Friday, 16 August 1912

Senator ST LEDGER (Queensland) . - I should like to emphasize the necessity for the presentation of the Auditor-General's report to Parliament at as early a date as possible. I have some particulars which I think honorable senators will admit justify our contention as to the unsatisfactory position in which we are placed by the lapse of time which is permitted to occur between the receipt of the Treasurer's statement and the presentation of the Auditor-General's report. I give the date on which the Treasurer's statement was received by the AuditorGeneral, each year, from 1902 to 191*1. That for the year ending June, 1901, was received by the Auditor-General on the nth August, 1902. The date on which the statement for 1901-2 was received by the Auditor-General is not available. In 1903, the Treasurer's statement was received by the Auditor-General between the 20th October, 1903, and 21st January, 1904 - others in February, 1904. The statement for 1903-4 was received, part on 18th November, and the' balance later in the month. That for 1904-5, on the 28th November, 1905. For 1905-6, on the 18th September, 1906. For 1906-7, on the 5th December, 1907. For 1907-8, on the 10th December. For 1908- 9, 1st and 7th December, 1909. For 1909- 10, on the 10th March, ipu, and the Treasurer's statement for the year ending 30th June, 1911, was not received by the Auditor-General until the 30th April, 1912. It will be seen that the interval between the delivery of the Treasurer's statement and its receipt with the necessary accompanying vouchers by the Auditor-General has, year by year, and especially of recent years, been increasing. If this is to continue, the result will be that Parliament will not have an opportunity to consult the Auditor-General's report in order to make their criticisms of the Treasurer's statement effective. I hope that some action will be taken to remedy the existing state of affairs.

Senator McGREGOR(South Australia - Vice-President of the Executive Council) D10.52]. - I did not expect that this Bill would give rise to so much discussion. With respect to the delay which has been com plained of in the presentation of the AuditorGeneral's report, honorable senators must bear in mind that the Commonwealth is very different from any of the States. The delay referred to arises from the fact that adjustments and re-adjustments have to be made in connexion with accounts from different places in all of the States. The Auditor-General is supplied with the figures from the Treasury, not en bloc, but as they come in, and even during the present year, when a special effort is being made, it wilt be impossible for him to have his report ready before some time in November. Even though the General Estimates and the Works and Buildings Estimates are prepared early in the session, ft is impossible to have the advantage of the AuditorGeneral's report for the same year in dealing with them.

Senator Millen - If it be possible to have the report presented in November this year, how does the honorable senator account for the fact that the report for the previous financial year was not presented until April of this year?

Senator McGREGOR - I have no information with respect to that. If the staff of the Auditor-General's Department has not been correspondingly increased, the growing expenditure and business of the Commonwealth may account for the later presentation of his report. It may be that it will be found necessary to increase the Auditor-General's staff to enable him to submit his report for each year before Parliament goes into recess.

Senator Lt Colonel Sir Albert Gould - I think that the difficulty arises from delay in giving necessary information to the Auditor-General.

Senator McGREGOR - No information is delayed after it is in the possession of the Treasury. The honorable senator should know that all the information does not come into possession of the Treasury at the same time, but as it comes in it is forwarded to the Auditor-General without delay, and everything is done to facilitate the work of the Auditor-General's Department.

Senator Lt Colonel Sir Albert Gould - If we could have a progress report from the Auditor-General it would assist us.

Senator McGREGOR - The honorable senator ought to know that, though everything is done to expedite the balancing of the finances up to the 30th June of each year, it is only after that date that the figures can be forwarded to the AuditorGeneral. He has then to verify statements and accounts from all the States. He is admittedly a careful man, and will not accept responsibility except on reports of his confidential officers. I am informed that it would be impossible for the Auditor-General to have his report for this year ready before November. But every effort will be made to lay it before Parliament before' the close of the session. I do not think it is necessary to wait until we get into Committee to explain the matters referred to by Senator Clemons. If the honorable senator had a copy of the principal Act before him he would see that sections 33 and 34 apply to officers on land in touch with the Treasury. Naval officers being employed at sea move about from piao* to place, and the regulations which apply to land officers cannot be applied to them. With respect to section 46, it is provided that vouchers shall be given for every payment, but we propose in this Bill to enable captains to pay their men without getting receipts. The Auditor- General will still have a sufficient check upon the vouchers presented by captains, because they will know the ratings of all the men.

Question resolved in the affirmative.

Bill read a second time, and reported without amendment.

Standing Orders suspended, and Bill passed through its remaining stages.

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