Legislative Assembly for the ACT: Week 5 Hansard (14 May) . . Page.. 2024..
Appropriation Bill 2003-2004 (No 3)
Debate resumed from 11 March 2004, on motion by Mr Quinlan:
That this bill be agreed to in principle.
MR SMYTH (Leader of the Opposition) (8.40): Mr Speaker, the opposition will be supporting this appropriation bill. We have always said that governments deserve their budgets and should have their appropriation bills. I will just make some comments on behalf of the opposition as to some of the numbers and some of the items in the bill itself. I hope that we will be able to move quite quickly through it.
The estimates committee raised some queries about the need for this expenditure and the ability to spend the money before the end of the financial year. Clearly, when the government presented the bill, it would have loved the estimates committee to have reported by the end of March, but I suspect that that was always going to be a little bit tight. The committee reported as quickly as it could and the government has just tabled its response to the recommendations.
The committee asked that the government come back on the first sitting day in August and report to the Assembly as to how much of this money had been spent. I note that the government has agreed to provide that information. I am sure that the Assembly will be grateful for that, because having such a large appropriate so late in the cycle and just before the financial year's budget is to be released does raise questions.
We do question the need for some of this expenditure and whether the motivation was not simply to run down the surplus so that there would be less to spend in the coming year, because a large amount of this appropriation would appear to be, certainly to the estimates committee and to the opposition, money that will not be spent this year. As we have probed through that in the inquiry, we have had assurances from ministers that the money is urgently needed.
In the case of the money for child protection, for instance, it became quite clear as the inquiry continued and as the minister came back that the money will be required in June, so the excuses that the government put that this bill had to be passed by the end of March certainly dissolved under scrutiny. Nobody is doubting that the money will be needed towards the end of the financial year; but, if we are going to be honest about these things, let us know exactly when the money will be required and how much of it could be spent in a particular year.
In each of the areas, the clerical enterprise bargaining agreement features quite large. Over the course of the debate it came up that almost $30 million is required for public service pay rises. We do not begrudge the pay rises; I am sure that they will be negotiated wisely. We would certainly like to ensure that the taxpayer will be getting appropriate trade-offs in terms of productivity and increased output. A lot of that did not seem to have been considered by the various ministers that appeared before the estimates committee.