From Accounting to Accountability: A Centenary History of the Australian National Audit Office

From Accounting to Accountability: A Centenary History of the Australian National Audit Office

From Accounting to Accountability: A Centenary History of the Australian National Audit Office

From Accounting to Accountability: A Centenary History of the Australian National Audit Office

Excerpt

Australia celebrates its Centenary of Federation in 2001. In this year of reflection and commemoration, our attention has focused on the birth of our nation—the founding fathers, the moving speeches, the tortuous referendum asking the people of the six fledgling colonies whether they preferred to form an indissoluble nation. The first Commonwealth government was appointed by the Governor-General, Lord Hopetoun, commencing on 1 January 1901, Commonwealth Inauguration Day. Elections then followed in March 1901 to constitute the inaugural Parliament, at which the Barton ministry was maintained as a minority government.

From its democratic origins as a federal nation, Australia was soon faced with the task of establishing the national institutions of governance. When the first Commonwealth Parliament assembled in Melbourne in May 1901, its immediate task was to begin building the necessary institutions of national government. Five Commonwealth government departments were established and the government gradually took over the responsibilities given to it under the Constitution. Other national institutions soon followed—one of the most important of which came with the passing of the Audit Act 1901 and the creation of the office of the Auditor-General.

The Audit Act gave Australians the right to expect ‘the fullest control’ of those ‘who have to deal with the receipt and expenditure of our money’. It was intended that government and the public sector should be accountable and audited to the highest standards. The new Parliament recognised that Australians wanted governments to be held accountable for the money they raised and spent.

Parliament created the position of Auditor-General as a special public official with wide powers of investigation who would not be intimidated by government or other vested interests. It intended that the Auditor-General should be independent and impartial, and able to scrutinise Commonwealth administration and give true assessments on the state of the public accounts. In an era of austerity, the role of an independent Auditor-General was seen as fundamental to good government. But besides attesting to the accuracy of financial statements, one of the main benefits provided over the years . . .

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