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The Collected Parliamentary Reports of Robin Hyde

The Dominion, Wednesday, August 19, 1925. p. 10. — Peeps at Parliament: Auditing an Auditor — "The Champion Spotter"

The Dominion, Wednesday, August 19, 1925. p. 10.
Peeps at Parliament: Auditing an Auditor — "The Champion Spotter"

"I move," said Mr. Coates, with characteristic bright and breezy optimism, "that these papers do now lie upon the table and be printed." And he glanced hopefully at the brooding and sphinx-like countenance of Mr. Speaker.

"Oh, no you don't, my dear young man," cooed Mr. Forbes, leader of our—what d'you call it?—our Opposition. "No, you don't!"

At least, to be perfectly truthful, Mr. Forbes didn't express himself in those words; but that, as far as I could gather, was just exactly what he meant.338 The Prime Minister fervently desired that certain, or, as Mr. Forbes would have it, uncertain papers, should lie upon the table, and that the next order of the day should be proceeded with instanter. But Mr. Forbes, instead of agreeing, as a reasonable man, that the papers might just as well lie upon the table as lie anywhere else, suddenly evinced a profound desire for thorough and searching investigations.

I suppose that to give perfect peace of mind to those sober and system-loving individuals who will occur in the worst regulated of communities, we'd better go right back, and begin, in the same old way, at the very beginning. Permit me to explain. The paper which Mr. Coates so fervently desired to lay upon the table was an official answer to certain allegations of various natures (including ill-nature) made in the report of the Auditor-General against sundry officials of the Civil Service. Mr. Coates, the Civil Service being the pride of his fatherly heart, really couldn't suffer such rude and unkind remarks to pass unchallenged. So, putting on a pair of horn-rimmed spectacles and a "Heaven-help-the-man-who-interrupts-me-now" expression, he went clean through the Auditor-General's report and discovered every one of the allegations made therein to be so much—what do our Americans call it?—so much skybosh. Having said so, in perfectly polite and Parliamentary language, he appeared quite willing to let the matter drop. There is just one thing in Parliament which you can count upon with absolute certainty. When one member is willing, not to say anxious, to let something drop, all the others immediately wake up to find that they aren't. You see, they have a kind of feeling that the reason why their dear and honourable friend is so very willing to let the whole thing drop may possibly be because it's burning his fingers. You ask Mr. Corrigan.

So Mr. Forbes—that mighty leader of forlorn hopes—arose and declared that while he, to be sure, knew absolutely nothing whatever about the matter, he felt that it was his duty to his constituents to collect some of the more lurid details, and he was quite sure that the Prime Minister would be only too happy to oblige, wouldn't he?339 It was at this juncture that I began to have a cold and creepy premonition that something was going to happen. Something did. It was the entire Labour-Socialist Party. Now, don't you think that that was extraordinary?

But before we start talking about the Labour Party—a subject which, as you will readily admit, always takes time and occasionally thought—let me ask the feminine section of the community, as woman to woman, just one simple and straightforward question. Do you, or do you not, know what an Auditor-General is? If you don't, you have no real reason to blush for yourselves. I didn't myself, until this afternoon. After hearing Mr. Coates, Mr. Forbes, Mr. Holland, and about sixteen others discuss the matter, I'm beginning to have a faint—a very faint—glimmering of an idea as to what the Auditor-General is, but I still don't know why: and what's more, I believe that Mr. Coates himself sometimes wonders.

Listen. You have all, at some time or another, caught some glimpse of the precincts of a Government-owned and Government-run Department—even if it was only the Prisons Department. You have seen, and, if you are really respectable citizens, trembled before various splendid-looking gentlemen, clad in brass buttons and red tape, who seem to have nothing in the world to do but sit about in revolving chairs and say, "Well, and what might you want now?" to such shivering mortals as dare to approach them. You wouldn't think, would you, that there existed a Personage with power sufficient to make these individuals shake in their well-blacked shoes? Well, somewhere in an eyrie in the heart of Wellington dwells the Auditor-General. Every now and again, just when unsuspecting officials are settling down to a quiet and comfortable little nap, he swoops[.] Office boys have been known to run—yes, positively run—when they have seen him on the far horizon. He has right of access to the accounts of all State-owned Departments, and is, on the whole, an exceedingly dangerous individual.

"For he says the truth. And, worse than that,
He dares to say it out loud and flat,
And exceedingly flat and loud at that." 340

But there's just one drawback about adopting as one's vocation in life the coldly discovering and boldly uncovering of unpleasant facts. One's sense of proportion is apt to become just a trifle distorted. One sees an incipient burglar, bigamist and Sabbath-breaker in every shivering office-boy who has unlawfully confiscated and made away with a rubber band. One becomes suspicious of Sunday-school teachers—and, if one is an Auditor-General, one's lot in life is to set down one's suspicions in black and white, mostly black. And that was what Mr. Coates was objecting to and it was his objections that he wanted to lay on the table.

Do you know I've an idea that we have actually been talking seriously? Well, at least one somewhat amusing incident cropped up during the debate. Mr. Parry, going over the Auditor-General's very black list of official depredations, to which Mr. Coates had taken strong exception, came to the matter of expenditure on wine. "£9 for wine," said Mr. Parry, waving his hand with airy grace; "well, of course, that's nothing. That's only a spot."341 I may say that at this juncture the Ladies' Gallery regarded Mr. Parry with a strong mixture of admiration and awe. I myself have always regarded the hon. member as a man of capacity; it seems that I should substitute "cubic capacity." I'm not very well up in these matters, but I'm sure that one could, if one really wanted to, obtain at least a barrel of, say, beer for £9. And Mr. Parry regards that as "merely a spot." Well, well, who'd have thought it?

338 Forbes wanted more debate on the areas of contention in the statement Coates had read; see Hansard 207: 404.

339 Forbes argued that "it is easy to make an unsupported reply to the charges" and was "sure the House is quite willing to hear what the Public Service has to say in its defence" (Hansard 207: 404).

340 Cf. C. J. Dennis, "The Growth of Sym," lines 26-28.

"Parental blither," she said quite flat.
"He's an average Glug; and he's red and fat!
And exceedingly fat and red at that!"

The Glugs of Gosh (Sydney: Angus & Robertson, 1917).

341 Hyde misrepresents Parry here, as she went on to acknowledge in her next column, published on 20 August 1925. Parry attributed this view to Coates, noting: "[t]hen we have the item covering the consumption of £9 worth of wine by certain officers. According to the Prime Minister, this also is of no moment; it is just a 'spot'" (Hansard 207: 407).