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GOVERNMENT DEFEAT ON THE AUDIT BILL.
The pretensions of the Government to override the Audit Act and force the House to deny what it had a few months before- affirmed were sneedilv broueht
to a close by the result of the division on the amending Bill. As the prospects of- a debate on ths subject came nearer Ministers very ma terially modified their autocratic tone. The Treasurer when it came to the pinch was ready with the accommodating suggestion that 'if the House would not exercise economy the appointment would have to be made.' Thus easily did he dispose of the ^Government's responsibility for one part of their programme as announced in the Governor's Speech. No doubt it will be possible for them to cast overboard a few more items of that same programme before the session is many months old. But the argument of economy which [the Treasurer -with characteristic timidity magnified into the strongest point of his speech, shrinks into the most insigni ficant proportions when examined. The Assistant Auditor has been receiving £500 per flnnnm. The * Government an nounce tiieir intention to 'promote him a little.^--. Say heshould get £700. Then it is suggested another xlerk might be necessary, and it is morally certain thatr if there vrere only one Commissioner his salary would be raised before long. - With two Commissioners of Audit, as the House has determined there, shall be, the expense will be £2,000.-: With only one it is doubtful whether. ; they would be very much less. The -other arguments of the Treasurer -were even more worthless than^this one. In one breath he told the House that the appointment of a second Commissioner was so valuable that to give it to a member of the Civil Service would cause jealousy and envy among the other officers; and in the next he argued that owing to its dependence on the will of Parliament the post is so precarious that it would be dim cult to get a man to take it. ; The Chief Secretary's argument, on the other hand, wa3 entirely founded on the contention that the Commissionership of Audit is a practically permanent position, voidable, as in the case of the Judges, only in cases of misconduct. ? Evidently the temper of the House is being roosed through : being trifled with in this manner. However, the Govern ment may pretend - to regard Tues day's adverse vote, it is* ..certain that to any high-minded Ministry It would only appear as one of want of con fidence. The Government have for six months been setting aside an Act of Parliament. The instructions of Parlia ment were that 'there shall be two Commissioner of Audit,' and the word 'shall' showed that the clause was mandatory. Mr. Bray attempts to place the injunction on~ the same footing as that, -which was .contained , in. _the. Military Force Act of 1878. This Act prQTides_that_' tie^Govemor^niay' raise' and maintain a permanent military force.' Mr. Bray knows the difference an well as any man; and it was an insult to the House for him to stand up and attempt to hoodwink members by a contention which an averagelawyer's office-boy would spurn. The Miaistry have ? overridden - an Act of Parliament. They asked Par liament to indemnify them, and Parlia ment refused. If this ia not a vote of want of confidence it is difficult to say ?what could be. It should be remem bered also that the mover of the rejection of the Bill made some most serious charges against the Government. His speech, in fact, -was almost exclusively confined to sheeting home to the Chief Secretary a charge of withholding information when asked for it in the House. The accusation was proved beyond doubt. The Chief Secre tary told the House on July 3 that ' the Government are aware that the Com missioner of Audit is a local Director of the English Copper Company.' He did not inform the House until pressed to do so last Thursday that Mr. Cooke is both Attorney for the English and Australian Copper Company and one of the Directora of the Corporation of Copper Mines Company. There was evi dently an attempt, in an off-hand manner, to confuse the two offices into one. The attempt did not succeed. The House voted unreservedly in favour of the motion introduced with thi3 accusation against the Government, and no one can deny that an implied censure is. conveyed thereby. When a Ministry are charged with setting aside an Act of Parliament and withholding information from the House, what is to be thought of them if they tamely submit to such a direct rebuff as they received yesterday ? They may choose to pretend that they have net received a check which shows they do not possess the confidence of Parliament. But the meaning of Tues day's vote ia patent to everybody but themselves. By what authority are the Ministry empowered to decide that they do not want the services of more than one Commissioner of Audit ? These Commis sioners are officers placed by Parliament in positions beyond the control of the Government, .. for the express reason that ; . they are , the overseers of the -Government'! - financial . conduct. No private Company would permit its managers to. say how or in what degree their expenditure- of -the finances should be controlled, much less would it allo-jr ' theiri to dis pense with an express direction such as thai of having two Auditors. The. House, by passing; tie Audit Act of last year^ affirmed that fiie presence \oiT Only' ?-?-?-ili-:..j
one Auditor was not a sufficient check en the Government expenditure, and tLat there should be two such Auditors, one acting as a check upon the other. The Government arrogated to themselves the responsibility of dispensing with such a safeguard, and the fact that their action is not upheld by the House is a direct rebuke to them. Even the argument that the work was well within the capacity of one man was soon disposed of by the Chief Secretary, who had put it forward. Mr. Bray impressed upon the House that the present Commissioner of Audit would have to work late at night, and it was the most natural thing ia the world for Mr. Colton to call attention to the gross inconsistency involved in the two statements. But the matter of work is not the question. It is the much more important point of responsibility which is involved. Parliament requires two Auditors to certify the accounts of the Government. When this prin ciple was so clearly laid down by Mr. Cooke and Mr. Bray in tbeir report as members of the Commission, and accepted by the House and embodied in an Act, it was a direct evasion of the law for the Government to ignore it. ? If Mr. Glyde intends at once to resign his portfolio his reticence at the close of thedebate is intelligible, but certainly on no other supposition. He told the House at the end of his introductory speech that he would reply at the close of the debate to any objections that might be made. Two grave charges against the Government ?were put forward — first, of overriding an Act of Parliament; and, secondly, of keeping back information from the House. Mr. Glyde made no attempt at a defence, and, as we have said, we do not wonder at his reticence if he intends to resign. That ihe Ministry should be content to sit down under the censure of the House for overriding an Act of Parliament, and an indirect one, for what was described as an act of deception, is scarcely to be wondered at in view of the, extreme flexibility which their policy has always exhibited. But when the Treasurer, after promising to reply and after hearing the Government attacked on most important points, keep3 his seat and lets the case go against his Government by default, it is to be pre surried that his keen sense of honour will 'dictate 'the . right ? course for him to -pursue. \ '? - i, ''?--