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Thursday, 24 May 1973
Page: 2588

Mr SPEAKER -Is leave granted? There being no objection, leave is granted.

Mr HURFORD - The 143rd report of the Public Accounts Committee comprises 3 Treasury minutes relating to previous reports of the Committee. These reports were the 121st report on the Department of Shipping and Transport - now the Department of Transport - the 127th report on the AuditorGeneral's report for the financial year 1969- 70 and the 134th report, which dealt with under-expenditure from the Consolidated Revenue Fund under the Appropriation Acts for 1970-71.

The 121st report deals with a general inquiry into the financial administration of the Department of Shipping and Transport. In the conclusions to the report your Committee expressed concern, amongst other things, about the division of the Department's central office between Melbourne and Canberra. It is pleasing to learn from the Treasury minute that the resumed program for transfer of departmental central offices to Canberra will result in that Department moving most of its central office to Canberra by the end of 1975. Also, in this Treasury minute we were informed that the Navigation Act, about which the Committee expressed some reservations, is being revised by a former First Assistant Secretary of that Department, working as a special consultant.

When we examined the Auditor-General's report of 1969-70 the Committee expressed some concern about responsibility for school buildings. It may be recalled that this issue arose as a consequence of a major fire which destroyed the Lyneham primary school. We were pleased to be informed in the Treasury minute that the former Departments of the Interior, now Services and Property, and Education and Science, now Education, and the Department of the Treasury had agreed firstly, that all school buildings in the Australian Capital Territory should be regarded as special purpose buildings, and secondly, that the responsibility for maintaining assets registers for those buildings should rest with the Department of Education and Science.

The Treasury minute also told us that installation of thermal fire protection services in existing Australian Capital Territory primary schools had commenced, and a priority order for the progressive installation in other schools was being arranged. In addition, we are able to report that a feasibility study has commenced to determine the most efficient and economical burglar alarm system for use in existing and proposed education buildings.

Another matter which the Committee examined was the fraudulent issue and negotiation of cheques at a regional office of the Department of Social Services, now the Department of Social Security. Following this fraud, internal audit practice was strengthened by the use of statistical oriented sampling procedures for all regional office audits. In addition, the internal audit establishment was reorganised to provide for officers with greater training and qualifications to be engaged in this work.

The 134th report arose from the Committee's annual examination of expenditure from the Consolidated Revenue Fund in 1970-71. The Committee found it necessary to refer to cases of unsatisfactory or inadequate administrative performances that resulted in shortfalls in expenditure and attention was drawn by the Committee to these inadequacies where they arose. In this particular report, we also suggested that departments engaged in the administration of legislation, ought to maintain a thorough knowledge of the provisions of the legislation concerned. We are pleased to note that the conclusions of the Committee were brought to the attention of the appropriate officers.

Before concluding, I would like to inform honourable members, particularly new members, of the procedures involved in this rather unique form of document called the Treasury minute. The practice of presenting Treasury minutes is the result of an arrangement made between the public accounts Committee and the Treasurer before the presentation of the Committee's first report on 10 March 1953. The arrangement is that the Committee will forward a copy of each report to the Treasurer for consideration immediately that report is tabled. His reply, to take the form of a Treasury minute on the report, is to be included by the Committee in a later report to the Parliament. This 143rd report is one of those later reports to Parliament. Before preparing its minute, the Treasury consults the departments concerned and obtains their views on the points raised by the Committee. Essentially the Treasury minute system ensures that Committee recommendations are acted upon and informs members of the steps taken to meet their proposals. I commend the report to honourable members.

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