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Controller Function

Parliamentary Authority for Public Expenditure

Public expenditure occurs within a framework dominated by two important principles, the principle of appropriation and the principle of lawfulness of purpose. The Public Finance Act expresses the principles in the language of accrual accounting:

The Crown or an Office of Parliament must not incur expenses or capital expenditure, except as expressly authorised by an appropriation, or other authority, by or under an Act [section 4(1)].

The Crown or an Office of Parliament must not spend public money, except as expressly authorised by or under an Act … [section 5].

The principle of lawfulness of purpose includes but is wider than, the principle of appropriation.


The two principles discussed above come together in the exercise of a vital constitutional check on public expenditure - the Controller function.

The Office of Controller originated centuries ago in the United Kingdom. The original purpose of the office was to receive and hold public revenues until they were issued, under the authority of Parliament, for the service of the State. The role later evolved into one of verifying that any release of public money to the Executive branch of government was lawful and in keeping with an appropriation by Parliament.

The C&AG exercises the Controller function under the authority of the Public Finance Act.[46] The main features of the function are:

  • the Treasury must report monthly to the C&AG on all expenses and capital expenditure incurred with or without appropriation or other authority (section 65Y)
  • the C&AG can direct a Minister to report to the House if the C&AG has reason to believe that any expenditure incurred is unlawful or used for a purpose not within the scope, amount, or period of an appropriation or other authority (section 65Z)
  • the C&AG can stop payments from a Crown bank account or a departmental bank account, to prevent money being paid out of the account that may be applied for a purpose not lawful or is not within the scope, amount or period of an appropriation or other authority (section 65ZA)
  • public money can be withheld at any time if the terms of an appropriation are not complied with.


  • [46]Sections 65Y to 65ZA.
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