AGY-1152 | Auditor General [II]

NSW State Archives Collection
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Although bills to regulate the audit process were introduced in 1856, 1857, and 1859, it was not until the proclamation of the Audit Act (33 Vic., No. 18) 1870 that the office of Auditor General was statutorily constituted. This legislation came into force on 1 January 1871 detailing the collection, custody and payment of public moneys; accounts to be kept by the Colonial Treasurer and the annual statements to be prepared; appointment, suspension, and removal protocols for the position of Auditor General; appointment of a deputy for the Auditor General if required and the Auditor General's tenure of office.

The role of the Auditor General was to examine the public accounts, revenue collection, the Treasurer's annual statement, conduct detailed audits of government departments (unless exempted by the Governor), and make suggestions for the collection and payment of public moneys. The Report and Statements of the Auditor General were to be laid before the Legislative Assembly.

In regulating the payment of moneys the Audit Act, 1870 (33 Vic., Act No. 18) imposed upon the Auditor General part of the constitutional control established for the issue of moneys out of the Treasury. The Colonial Treasurer was to submit requests for moneys, statutorily described as warrants, for the authority to issue moneys, the Auditor General would certify the warrant by countersigning only if the Parliamentary appropriation for the services mentioned was unused. With certification by the Auditor General the warrant could then be forwarded to the Governor for approval and signature.

With the federation of the States on 1 January 1901, the Commonwealth of Australia Constitution Act provided that until the Federal Parliament passed an Audit Act the laws of each state were to apply to public moneys relating to the Commonwealth. The Commonwealth Audit Act came into force on 1 January 1902 and the first Commonwealth Auditor General was appointed. The New South Wales Auditor General was also appointed as his deputy in this State and audited Commonwealth accounts on his behalf until the establishment of a Commonwealth Audit Office in Sydney in 1905.

The Audit Act, 1902 (Act No. 26 1902) strengthened and widened the powers and duties of the Auditor General. The Auditor General was empowered to inspect, examine, and audit the accounts of all the officers in the Public Service. The Governor could still grant exemptions from a detailed audit to particular departments for their "peculiar duties, constitution, or circumstances", however, appropriation audits were inviolable. (1) The duty of inspecting and examining "public stores" was transferred from the Public Service Board to the Auditor General. (2) The Auditor General was also given the power to seek legal opinion from the Attorney General or Crown Solicitor. (3)

The Audit Act, 1902 appointed a Public Accounts Committee (consisting of five MLAs not being Minsters of the Crown) to enquire and report to the Legislative Assembly on questions arising from the Public Accounts. The Public Accounts Committee could hear matters referred to it by a Minister of the Crown, the Auditor General, or a resolution of the Legislative Assembly. Ministerial expenditure without parliamentary sanction or appropriation could also be investigated. (10) The exclusion of the Auditor General from the representative arena was reinforced by an express prohibition from service on the Executive Council of the Commonwealth or State Parliaments.

The Audit (Amendment) Act, 1929 (Act No.12 1929) commenced on 30 November 1929 and changed the tenure of office of the Auditor General from life to one ceasing at age sixty-five. (4) The position of Assistant Auditor General was first created when the department was reorganised in 1929, the designation was changed to Assistant Auditor General and Chief Auditor in 1962.

Under the Audit (Amendment) Act, 1946 (Act No.1 1946) the Auditor-General was responsible for auditing the income and expenditure accounts of the -

a) Government Railways, including any service carried out by the Commissioner for Railways
b) Metropolitan Transport Services
c) Newcastle and District Transport Services
d) Maritime Services Board
e) Sydney Harbour Trust

and "other undertakings or activities as the Governor from time to time direct". (5)

The Audit (Amendment) Act, 1952 (Act No.2 1953) expanded the definition of Public Moneys to include securities. (6) In response to the increasing volume of government accounts and their accompanying internal checking systems the Auditor General could now dispense with all or any part of the detailed audit of accounts. This would be done through a recommendation by the Auditor General with an actual exemption being issued by the Treasurer to an accounts officer. (7)

The Public Finance and Audit Act, 1983 (Act No. 152 1983) commencing on 6 January 1984 (8) modernised public sector financial administration and audit and established the Auditor-General's Office commencing on 6 January, 1984.


(1) Guide to the State Archives of New South Wales: Record Group N AU Auditor General, The Archives Authority of New South Wales, Sydney 1964 p.22.
(2) Constitution Act Amendment Act (No.5 47 Vic.) 1884 Section 4 (III).
(3) P.N. Lamb 'Geoffrey Eager and the Colonial Treasury of New South Wales' in Spann R.N. & Curnow G.R. (Eds) Public Policy and Administration in Australia: A Reader, John Wiley and Sons Australasia, Sydney 1975, p. 261.
(4) Audit Act (No. 26 1902) Section 54.
(5) Ibid. Section 12.
(6) Ibid. Section 15.
(7) Ibid. Section 16.1 a & b.
(8) Audit (Amendment) Act (No.12 1929) Sections 1.2 & 2.
(9) Audit (Amendment) Act (No.1 1946) Section 59A.

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