Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2007 Week 4 Hansard (3 May) . . Page.. 901..
MR SPEAKER: Order! Mrs Dunne.
MS MacDONALD: Having served on probably six estimates committees now, I can say that last year was a very difficult budget and I would suggest that Ms Porter chaired it very effectively and still had the opportunity to ask questions of ministers and keep ministers accountable. There is no issue about the government taking the chair position.
MR STEFANIAK (Ginninderra-Leader of the Opposition) (11.05): Oh, yes, there is, Ms Macdonald. There is a very big issue in relation to this particular amendment. Again, it reflects the arrogance of the first majority government in the territory.
We have a number of conventions in this place-or we had-which are admirable. One of them was sharing the chairs of committees around and having a very strong committee system. I commend the government for the way in which our standing committees operate. One of the other traditions we had in this place, however, was that there would always be a non-government member chairing the estimates committee. That is something that you people have now departed from. You have departed from it because you have got the numbers, and that does not make it right.
It is hardly a matter of the money, Ms Macdonald; the money is a very small amount for a lot of hard work in a very short period of time. It is the actual principle of accountable government and the fact that you are now flagrantly breaching a number of conventions in this place-this is one of them-which we have built up over the short period of time this Assembly has been going.
One of those conventions has been to have a non-government member chair the estimates committee. That is a fine convention. It enables the estimates committee to operate in an obviously fair manner and to hold the government accountable-and to be seen to be holding the government accountable. Having been a minister and having gone through about seven estimates committees as a minister, I do not think it was ever a particular problem. I think it was right and proper that non-government members would chair the estimates committee. Indeed, they do so properly. I myself have chaired at least one of them. The chair has a slightly different role from that of other members on the estimates committee. Most non-government chairs have done that. The estimates committee is not meant to be a rubber stamp for the government's expenditure process and the budget of the government. The budget is an incredibly important document-
Ms MacDonald: And it will not be.
MR STEFANIAK: You say across the chamber, "No it won't."I think that is part of the problem. Over the last couple of years we have seen some issues. I recall that a couple of estimates ago people with shadow portfolios and other members who were not on the estimates committee had a great deal of problems in asking any questions at all. Admittedly, that was slightly better last year. Last year it was slightly better. But that is an issue which does not lend itself to good, accountable government.