Opinion Number. 227



Key Legislation

AUDIT ACT 1901, s. 34

The Postmaster-General

In the financial year 1903-4 certain expenditure by the Postmaster-General's Department was charged to Division No. 30, Advance to Treasurer, pursuant to an authority granted by the Treasurer.

Division No. 30, Advance to the Treasurer, in the estimates for 1903-4, reads as follows:

To enable the Treasurer to make advances to public officers and to meet expenditure, particulars of which will afterwards be included in a Parliamentary Appropriation.

After the close of the financial year, the Secretary to the Treasury forwarded journal entries, for the transfer of the expenditure to the proper head of account, to the Secretary to the Postmaster-General's Department, stating that appropriation had not yet been made for the charges included therein, but^that the transfers might be certified and entered in order that the expenditure might immediately be finally brought to account.

The Secretary to the Postmaster-General's Department apparently took up the position that until an appropriation had been made by Parliament the transfers could not legally be made. In a letter dated 16 August 1904, to the Secretary to the Treasury, written by direction of the Postmaster-General, he says (inter alia):

It is regretted that in view of section 34 of the Audit Act 1901, the responsible officers of this Department are not in a position to complete the accounts referred to, or to make in the Appropriation Ledger the requisite entries. The fact that the Auditor-General has apparently treated in a mild manner breaches of section 34 of the Audit Act would not, it is thought, warrant either the Certifying or Authorising Officer committing a breach of the strict injunctions of that section. So far as this office is concerned, compliance with your Department's wishes in the case under notice would not be 'in accordance with the previous practice'.

On 24 August 1904, the Treasurer (Sir George Turner) wrote the following minute, which was communicated to the Postmaster-General's Department:

Section 34, in my opinion, does not affect the matter. It is of importance that in the Finance Statement all amounts for the year shall be charged to the proper votes; I gave directions some time ago that this should be done, and when the Appropriation Act relating to such amounts was passed it was made retrospective, and the same course will be followed in future. I have, therefore, to request that the necessary transfer accounts be completed and returned as soon as possible; otherwise the books of the Treasury and of the Department will not be in accord. I see no objection to the course hitherto adopted.

The matter has now been forwarded to me for advice.

The question on which my opinion is desired is apparently whether there is any legal objection to complying with the request of the Treasurer.

I am of opinion that section 34 of the Audit Act 1901 does not apply to journal entries for the transfer of accounts. It applied to the original accounts on which the payments specified in the journal entries were made.

I am further of opinion that there is no legal objection to the making of the transfers as requested by the Treasurer and that the matter is entirely one for Departmental arrangement outside my province as Attorney-General to advise upon.(1)

[Vol. 5, p. 99]

(1) This Opinion was Published in Commonwealth of Austraila,parl.Paperes 1906, VoI.II,p.1005.