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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 1996 Week 12 Hansard (21 November) . . Page.. 4054..

MS McRAE (continuing):

report that it was made quite clear to us by the Auditor-General that there were matters of grave concern. The Estimates Committee chose to allow a level of negotiation to happen rather than create the third world war, which we could have done at that point. We find extremely disappointing the response from the Government belittling the very hard effort that was put in to allow a compromise and a bit of room to move.

We will have ample opportunity to review the Auditor-General's concerns, both in his report to the Assembly and in the review of the ownership agreements; but to belittle the work that the Estimates Committee did and the effort that was put in to find an agreed compromise from six members of the Assembly - it was not a party political attack - we find very disappointing. I would like to remind members that this issue is not complete, as I have just said. One can only wonder at the level of confusion and lack of instruction for these sorts of errors to occur, but we accepted that they were going to be corrected in the ownership agreements. We could easily have said that this was not acceptable. We even considered at one point the option of asking that Budget Paper No. 4 be completely rewritten.

I do not want anybody in this Assembly to go away with any impression that these were just light-hearted mistakes or errors along the way. They have the potential to affect quite seriously the budget numbers. When we see the ownership agreements we will be able to test those allegations. I am accepting that some of them may be variances of opinion and may not be as serious as may appear. I find disappointing this churlish trivialisation of something that was quite seriously put in the Estimates Committee report. It is indicative of the superficial approach to some very serious work that was done by our committee.

We will be examining those responses in greater detail tonight. A great deal has been said already to put the Government on notice that next year one may not make such an attempt to compromise. We may end up with a far harder Estimates Committee report, even if it does lead to a dissenting report, because some of these things that have now been glossed over are quite serious.

MR WOOD (10.32): Mr Speaker, there is one matter I want to refer to in general terms at this stage, and it follows on from what has been said by the two previous speakers on this side of the house about the clarity of the budget papers. I have said this before but it bears repeating, and I say it in the context of the Chief Minister's assertions that she makes often - that this is an open government and the budget papers are open. She says that she is pursuing that path, but that is not the case.

We have had great trouble in getting to the details of this budget because of the change. I can go back to the time when, in the Follett Government, we put out the details of where there were changes in funding. Each Minister was required to indicate, and was quite prepared to do so, where there were reductions in expenditure, and I put out, as other Ministers did, media statements saying, "We have reduced expenditure in these areas". That is no longer a part of the Government approach, and I believe it should be. I think we would all recognise that you do reduce areas of expenditure, and I would not on every occasion criticise the Government for doing so. Priorities change and you have to adjust your funding accordingly. But it is useful to know where those changes are being made. When it becomes very difficult to understand or to discover where those changes are, obviously people become rather sceptical about the process.

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