Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2006 Week 8 Hansard (22 August) . . Page.. 2426..
MR PRATT (continuing):
budget allocation we cannot get the security upgrade that we require to ensure that this building and its occupants are properly protected in the manner they should be.
Of course, our guests and members of the community who come into this place must also be protected. In the words of the former Treasurer, Mr Quinlan, and as reiterated by you, Mr Speaker, during estimates hearings, this Assembly continues to run on a shoestring budget. While heightened security threats prevail, while technology continues to improve and we need to keep up to date with it, while expectations of staff and members in this place increase with changes in the workscape, this Assembly has to continue to scrimp and save to meet its tight budget constraints.
All MLAs, our staff and, I suspect, members of the support elements in this place often have to struggle to get the communications equipment that would be seen in other professional backgrounds as fairly fundamental to doing the sorts of jobs they do. A number of speakers today have talked about MLAs' ability to send mail to constituents. Surely an important part of our job is our ability to communicate with our constituents—and I am talking about MLA duty communication, not political party communication. It seems quite reasonable to me that an MLA should at least have a fundamental benchmark to be able to do a universal mail-out to his or her constituents at least twice a year. It is not a huge impost on the budget but it adds up, and the budget does not reflect the fundamental ability for MLAs in this place to do that.
General services and support in the Assembly are delivered to MLAs and their staff in good spirit and by and large effectively, within the constraints of what was really an unfair budget. Finally, while $10 million in the 2006-07 budget may be inadequate and not even meet the increase in inflation for the previous year, I do not see how we can expect much more funding to be appropriated by this government, given the dismal way it has managed the ACT budget since coming to office.
MR STEFANIAK (Ginninderra—Leader of the Opposition) (11.31): As a member like you, Mr Speaker, who has been here in all of our assemblies, I think there is a lot of merit in what other members have been saying about the Assembly budget. We are always going to have fairly difficult financial times. We will always have to ensure that we minimise expenditure in any area and, leading by example, the Assembly budget is crucial. We have to balance that, however, with the needs of properly represented people of the ACT. I can recall that when we first started in this place, members were paid a fairly low salary. People in the federal arena who set up the Assembly thought we might be part-timers. If we are part-timers, it is the busiest sort of part-time job I have ever had. I know that most members often put in 60, 70-plus hours or more a week.
I would like to home in on the ability of members to do mail-outs, because that is a real problem. I note the commonwealth, which, to me, pays an exorbitant amount in postage allowance to its members, has increased this from about $150,000 a year to $200,000 a year. The basic allowance for mobile phones, mail-outs and sundry other items for members in the Assembly is about $6,000. To enable members, as Mr Pratt said, to do a mail-out, even if it is once a year—and Mr Pratt said twice a year, which would be ideal—would not take a huge amount of extra money. Obviously, it might be impossible in this item and in this budget, but it is now probably 11c or 12c to do a basic general mail-out. It could be achieved quite easily if members were given, say, $8,000 a year for a mail-out and for postage as a separate item.