William Lithgow was appointed to the dual role of heading the Accounts Branch of the Commissariat and Colonial Auditor on 8 November 1824. (1) In official terms William Lithgow held the civilian position of Auditor of Colonial Revenue (2) and the military position of Assistant Commissary General of Accompts. (3) As Colonial Auditor he was responsible for the compilation and examination of all aspects of the Colony's accounts. Comprehensive reports and statements of the Colony's finances along with supporting information had to be "sent home" to the Commissioners of Colonial Audit. Every detail of the accounts was scrutinised with explanations demanded in the case of doubtful items. The Colonial Auditor also furnished reports on the government departments to the Governor. On 12 April 1827 William Lithgow relinquished the duties of the Commissary of Accounts to the Treasury to concentrate exclusively on the audit process. (4)
Van Diemen's Land was separated from New South Wales in 1825 with the transfer of part of the Commissariat Department on 25 September 1826. An Accounts Branch was formed with a Deputy Assistant Commissary-General commencing duty on 25 November 1825. The office of Auditor of Colonial Accounts was also instituted in Tasmania so that the administrative separation of the two colonies would be complete. (5)
In the first two Ministries under the new constitution of 1856 the Auditor General was an elected member of the Legislative Assembly. George R. Nicholls was Auditor General in the Donaldson Ministry from 6 June 1856 to 25 August 1856 followed by Terence A. Murray of the Cowper Ministry who held the position from 26 August 1856 to 17 September 1856. There was controversy over the ability and appropriateness of a Minister of the day to also act as Auditor General resulting in a new assessment of the Auditor General's role. The office of Auditor General came to be seen as providing adjudication rather than achieving explicit political aims.
The letter of the law was not changed until the passage of the Constitution Act Amendment Act, 1884 (47 Vic Act No. 5 .) 1884. This Act excluded the position of Auditor General from any "official member of the Government". (6)
The respective functions of the Auditor General and Treasurer were left undefined. No audit act was introduced while the Audit Office and Treasury were in constant conflict - duplication of records, uncertainty as to authority over departments and long delays in reconciling statements of the public accounts occurred in a period of increasing Government business. (7)
Although bills to regulate the audit process were introduced in 1856, 1857, and 1859, it was not until the proclamation of the Audit Act , 1870 (33 Vic., Act No. 18) that the office of Auditor General was statutorily constituted. This legislation came into force on 1 January 1871
(1) 'Know your Departments: 21 The Auditor General', Progress Vol. 6, No. 2 March 1967 page 27
(2) Earl Bathurst to Sir Thomas Brisbane 14 June 1825, Historical Records of Australia, Series I, Volume XI, page 645, Library Committee of the Commonwealth Parliament, Canberra 1917.
(3) Governor Darling to Secretary Harrison 12 April 1827 Historical Records of Australia, Series I, Volume XIII, page 250, Library Committee of the Commonwealth Parliament, Canberra 1917.
(4) Blue Book 1827 p.116.
(5) 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.
(6) Constitution Act Amendment Act (No.5 47 Vic.) 1884 Section 4 (III).
(7) P.N. Lamb 'Geoffrey Eager and the Colonial Treasury of New South Wales' in Spann R.N. & Curnow G.R. (Eds) Policy and Administration in Australia: A Reader, John Wiley and Sons Australasia, Sydney 1975, p. 261.