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Wednesday, 22 October 1913

Senator CLEMONS (Tasmania) (Honorary Minister) . - I do not suppose that honorable senators opposite wish to reject clause 3. without clearly understanding what they are doing. I venture to- say that they are under a good deal of misapprehension with regard to it. I wish to explain exactly what is meant by the clause. Honorable senators have asked what the Auditor-General has to do with stores. I remind the Committee that the Auditor-General has a duty with regard to stores, just as he has with regard to funds.

Senator McGregor - We said so.

Senator CLEMONS - One of the preliminary objections to the clause was made on that ground. I can pass that by. The next objection is that the clause is not in conformity with the Audit Act. It was Senator McGregor who, in objecting to the clause, endeavoured, to convince honorable senators in, his speech on the second reading of the Bill that this is an entirely inappropriate clause for an Audit Bill. If the honorable senator's contention on that point is sound, two of the most important sections of the existing Audit Act come entirely within his description, and should not be included in that Act. If those sections are properly included in the Audit Act, clause 3 is a fit and proper clause in a Bill amending the Audit Act. I am glad that I need not labour that point.

Senator Senior - The honorable senator should make the position clear.

Senator CLEMONS - If I secure an admission, I do not intend to labour the point which is admitted. Sections 45 and 71 of the Audit Act cover exactly the same field as that covered by clause 3 of this Bill. They touch directly upon the matter of regulating the control, pur- chase, and issue of public stores.

Senator McGregor - No, supervising.

Senator CLEMONS -What is the difference ? If the honorable senator had read the sections of the Audit Act to which I have referred, he would know that the phraseology is almost identical with that of clause 3 of this Bill. I do not think that he can for a moment contend that there is anything in the wording of this clause inappropriate to an Audit -Bill, in so far as it describes certain operations. The next criticism was that it was the intention under this Bill that the Auditor-General should be invested with a certain power over Supply and Tender Boards. There is nothing in the Bill to indicate that there is anything in the mind of the Government which would justify 'the suspicion expressed on the other side.

Senator McGregor - It is. because there is so little in it that the Government may do anything, under it.

Senator CLEMONS - Let me explain precisely what there is in it. There is nothing in the clause which in any way gives the Auditor-General any of the powers suggested. The clause prescribes certain conditions which must be complied with before the Auditor-General may pass, certain accounts, and especially accounts concerning- stores. It is. a method which Parliament, in my opinion, ought to adopt of prescribing clearly to the Auditor-General what he must do - when he is justified in passing any accounts, with respect to stores, and when he is not justified in doing so.

Senator McGregor - That is provided for in paragraphs d and e of section 45. of the Audit Act.

Senator CLEMONS - It is not provided for to the full extent covered by this clause. May I remind Senators McGregor and Pearce that in the Commonwealth to-day we have practically- in operation Tender and Supply Boards. Within the last few years the operations of the Commonwealth have very largely increased, and we engage in very large transactions for the purchase of goods and the supply of stores, and for this purpose we are using various Tender and Supply Boards ofthe different States. Senator Pearce is aware that that is exactly the position. We require to give some sort of Federal status to these Tender and Supply Boards which to-day are used by us occasionally, but which are really under the control of the State Governments.

Senator Needham - The provision is in the wrong place.

Senator CLEMONS - No, the clause is not in the wrong place. Let me remind the honorable senator that a similar provision appears in several of the State Acts. I assure him that, in my opinion, there could be no Bill in which this clause could be more appropriately included than an Audit Bill.

Senator McGregor - I have heard the honorable senator object many times to legislation by regulation.

Senator CLEMONS - I shall take up that point also, but I wish before honorable senators reject this clause to let the Committee know exactly what the position is. The Attorney-General and the

Government have given this matter full consideration, and surely nothing sinister can be imagined in the introduction of this clause in the Audit Bill. After consultation, we were deliberately of the opinion that this is an appropriate provision to introduce in an amendment of the Audit Act. I have explained that in ;the original Audit Act exactly similar provisions to clause 3 of this Bill will be found in sections 45 and 71. If such provisions are appropriate to the Audit Act, this clause is certainly appropriate to a Bill intended to amend that Act.

Senator Senior - But the honorable senator must see that there is a very great difference between the purchase of goods and the auditing of the purchase of goods.

Senator CLEMONS - This is a provision requiring that the purchase, control, and issue of public stores shall be matters considered by the AuditorGeneral, or which ought to come under his scrutiny.

Senator McGregor - Yes; they should come under his scrutiny.

Senator CLEMONS - Precisely. The words of this clause do not convey any indention that the Auditor-General should ^conduct the purchase, control, and issue of stores.

Senator McGregor - Surely they do.

Senator CLEMONS - They do not. It is not merely the business of the AuditorGeneral to look at a set of figures, but also to look at the goods, and see that they correspond with the payments made for them. In other words, it should be hia duty to audit stock. What we prescribe is that the Auditor-General shall be told by regulations, which will have to be submitted to Parliament, the proper method to audit goods as well as money, to ascertain whether stocks correspond with accounts of purchases and issues. That is the main object of this clause.

Senator Senior - Does it prescribe the conditions under which purchases are to be made?

Senator CLEMONS - No; not so far as the Auditor-General is concerned. I have admitted that one of the objects of the clause is to provide, where it may seem desirable, Federal Tender and Supply Boards to take the place of the State Tender and Supply Boards which we now make use of. We have passed several Acts the chief object of which was to gradually acquire direct control of State facilities and services which we previously used. There is no other purpose in this Bill, so far. as Tender and Supply Boards now being used are concerned, except that, by way of regulation, we give the Federal Parliament, which appropriates the money, an opportunity, when and where it seems desirable, to deal with the purchase and supply of goods directly through its own servants.

Senator Senior - If the revision of accounts is desirable, it is necessary to institute a Tender Board before you can repise their accounts.

Senator CLEMONS - If the honorable senator cannot understand that we must have this provision before we can have our Supply and Tender Boards, I am unable to help him.

Senator McGregor - The honorable senator says too much, or the Treasurer says too little.

Senator CLEMONS - I have no wish to conceal anything. I have taken up the different points urged against tlie clause by honorable senators opposite, and have done my best to meet them. The final objection to the provision is that I have complained before now of legislation by regulation. As honorable senators are aware, I sat on the other side in this Chamber for a very long time, and I admit that I often objected to legislation by regulation; but I do not think that it is possible to introduce into a Bill everything that is necessary to meet this particular provision. If this clause is agreed to, it will have to be given effect very largely by way of regulation. It is said that this is not the kind of Bill in which such a clause should be included, but if it were included in any other Bill we would have to take advantage of the right to make regulations to give effect to it. What are regulations? Honorable senators are afforded abundant opportunity to check them, and there is plenty of vigilance in the numbers I see opposite to insure that any regulation which this Government may lay upon the table of the Senate will be closely scrutinized. If we pass this Bill to-day, honorable senators opposite will not incur any risk whatever - assuming that they exercise the slightest vigilance - of anything being done in connexion with the auditing of public accounts, or the constitution of Supply and Tender Boards to which they may object.

Senator McGregor - We want the establishment of Supply and Tender Boards to be provided for in a separate Bill.

Senator CLEMONS - I hope that the Leader of the Opposition will withdraw his objection.

Senator McGregor - Oh, no!

Senator CLEMONS - Then I must recognise the force of numbers. If we create Supply and Tender Boards under a separate Bill, it will still be necessary to provide for regulations under thar, Bill. Thus, I shall then be called upon to meet precisely the same contention that I 'have to meet to-day. "Unless we take to ourselves power under this Bill to frame regulations - regulations which will always be under the supervision of the Senate - we cannot possibly provide for all contingencies that may arise. Let me instance the Postal Department or the Defence Department. I venture to say that every honorable senator who knows the enormous expenditure which has been going on in those Departments year after year will recognise that it is quite possible that much good may be accomplished by establishing in connexion with each of them a Supply and Tender Board.

Senator de Largie - We can consider the question from that stand-point.

Senator CLEMONS - Under the Audit Act, it is impossible to foresee all the contingencies which may arise. It may be that we may wish to establish our own Supply and Tender Board, or it may be that we may want to set up a special Supply and Tender Board to deal with the supply of stores for the PostmasterGeneral's Department all over Australia, or only in one State, and the same remark is applicable to the Defence Department. In the absence of that amount of elasticity which is conferred by regulations, it is impossible to provide for all contingencies that may arise from time to time. If honorable senators think it is wise that we should have power to deal with these matters, if they think it prudent to lay down strict conditions which must be complied with before , the Auditor-General is empowered to pass accounts, and if they are of opinion that we should have Supply and Tender Boards in various States and" for various Departments, they ought to agree to this clause. I hope that the opposition to it will not be persisted in. The Bill is one which ought to commend itself to honor able senators opposite, and I did not think it would be necessary for me to speak upon it at such length in Committee.

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