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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Cerutty, Charles John (1870–1941)

by Elizabeth Stewart

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 13, (MUP), 1993

Charles John Cerutty (1870-1941), public servant, was born on 25 November 1870 at Sale, Victoria, second son of John Cerutty, a draper from England, and his wife Elizabeth, née Stirling. Entering the Victorian Public Service on 30 April 1888, Charles worked as a clerk in the Department of the Treasurer. On 29 March 1894 at Thorpdale South, Gippsland, he married Wilhelmina Mercer with Wesleyan forms.

In 1897 Cerutty became secretary to the Public Service Reclassification Board; he held the post until June 1901 when he joined the Commonwealth Treasury as a sub-accountant. He assisted in the development of the Federal financial system by helping to establish the Commonwealth Bank of Australia, to raise loans, to inaugurate invalid and old-age pensions, and to introduce maternity allowances. Promoted accountant (1910) and assistant-secretary (1916), he performed the duties of Treasury secretary and director of the Commonwealth Bank's note-issue department in the absences of James Collins.

Having acted as auditor-general for the Commonwealth from April 1926, Cerutty was formally appointed to the post on 4 June. From the outset, he was a harsh critic of government waste. In charge of scrutinizing the nation's finances during the worst years of the Depression, he recommended that public expenditure be reduced, as well as advocating cuts in private spending on luxury items and leisure pursuits. He also urged that the unemployed should be made to work for sustenance payments. In his 1932 annual report he estimated that almost one thousand cases of fraud involving pensions had occurred during the financial year 1931-32. To reduce costs, he argued for a contributory system of old-age pensions which would compel workers to provide for their retirement.

In 1933-34 Cerutty angered politicians by blocking the planned transfer of his office to Canberra. Publicly, he denied refusing to move, and claimed that the government had agreed that it would be more efficient and economical for him to remain in Melbourne. His reports regularly expressed his complaint that the treasurer's annual statements of receipts and expenditure lacked clarity. In his final report (1935) he enlivened his usual discussion of the matter with a personal attack on the acting-treasurer Richard Gavin (Baron) Casey. Some members of parliament accused Cerutty of exceeding his powers and an attempt was made to deprive him of money for his accrued leave. The ploy was unsuccessful. Cerutty remained defiant, claiming that he was 'always in the right' and that he had acted in the interests of taxpayers.

A man of upright and distinguished appearance, he was a hard worker whose competence and thoroughness were admired by his colleagues. A keen golfer and shooter, and a Freemason, he regarded his job as his 'profession and hobby'. Cerutty had been appointed C.M.G. in 1927. He continued to keep a watchful eye on the state of the nation's finances after his retirement in 1935. Having suffered from angina for two years, he died of a coronary occlusion on 19 January 1941 at Caulfield and was cremated. His wife and daughter survived him.

Select Bibliography

  • Herald (Melbourne), 8 Apr 1926, 16 Dec 1927, 2 June 1933, 1 Feb 1935
  • Argus (Melbourne), 20 Feb, 3 Dec 1932, 20, 23 Nov 1935, 20 Jan 1941
  • Sun News-Pictorial (Melbourne), 26 Oct 1933, 8 Aug 1936
  • Smith's Weekly (Sydney), 30 Nov 1935
  • Age (Melbourne), 20 Jan 1941
  • C. J. Cerutty, notes on his career (Nov 1935, copy on ADB file).

Citation details

Elizabeth Stewart, 'Cerutty, Charles John (1870–1941)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1993, accessed online 27 October 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 13, (MUP), 1993

View the front pages for Volume 13

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