Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Department of Accountancy


The aim of this thesis is to establish the existence of a discourse of independence Australian state audit during the period 1901-84. Since Federation the Australian Commonwealth Auditor-General (state auditor) has been widely accepted as an independent officer as a consequence of a persuasive discourse of independence sustained by successive executive governments. This has arisen primarily from clauses of the Audit Act of 1901 which relate to the person of the Auditor-General. These provisions include guarantees of access for the Auditor-General to Parliament and security of tenure, although not financial autonomy for his Office. The state auditor's financial dependence on the Executive has meant that his independence has been conditional and not substantive. The discourse which developed around state audit has been successful in allowing these flaws in independence to go almost unchallenged.

Interpretations of independence for Australian state audit were borrowed from the British Audit Act of 1866 which was the culmination of the development of state audit over the period 1785-1866. This constitutes the first episode or epoch in the development of modem state audit. The 1866 Audit Act, while providing a measure of protection for the person of the Comptroller and Auditor General, had no intention of creating an independent Audit Office. Not only was this thought unnecessary to ensure basic checks on the accounting procedures and spending levels of the Executive but, at the time, it was contradictory to the form to which state audit had evolved in Westminster governance.

After over a century of dominance the 19th century form of state audit and its conception of independence borrowed from Britain were seriously challenged for the first time in the 1970's. Economic and political problems pressured Westminster governments to change their traditional Westminster conceptions of accountability and responsibility. This marked the start of the second significant episode in the development of state audit. The reactions of Britain and Canada at this time provide models and a foil to understand the coincident changes made to Australian state audit. Both Britain and Canada responded by widening the mandate of state audit and instituting a substantive form of independence which gave the state auditor financial and staffing autonomy from the Executive for the first time.

Following the recommendations of the RCAGA (1974-76) Australia modified the mandate of the state auditor but refused to enhance his Office's independence. The state auditor was given explicit authority to conduct efficiency audits but was not given financial and management autonomy similar to the Canadians to carry out these new audits. The partial nature of state audit reforms placed state audit in a position where the imperfections in its independence and therefore the deception of the discourse of independence became obvious.

The difficulties experienced by the Efficiency Auditing Division (EAD), which was established in 1978 to conduct efficiency audits, and the state auditor's reactions to these provide a unique opportunity to highUght the limited nature of Australian state audit independence and to expose the presence and perpetuation of a discourse of independence by self interested executive governments.