Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2007 Week 4 Hansard (3 May) . . Page.. 902..
MR STEFANIAK (continuing):
In the past 15 or 16 of the 18 years or so we have been operating when there has been a non-government chair, that has ensured that all members who appear to ask questions have had a reasonable go. That is part of the process of ensuring that the government is held to be accountable, and it is a process that has worked well.
The committee structure is one of the highlights of this little Assembly. It is something we can be very proud of. The committees scrutinise things such as the budget quite effectively. That has been the case traditionally, anyway. The committees in this place-the standing committees-invariably come down with a lot of common recommendations. In relation to the budget process itself, in years gone by the estimates committee has come down with a lot of common recommendations, with government members and indeed opposition members agreeing. That is healthy. That is what it is all about. Yes, in the estimates committee process there have often been dissenting reports. That is what it is about, too. When you have a minority government, you have got that. When you have a majority government, you have got that-in that instance, from non-government members.
This is one of those important conventions we have developed in this place which you are now flagrantly breaching. This is a very sad day. It is a sad day in relation to this motion. Because this will be a resolution of the Assembly, this will have the effect of forcing a government member to sit in the chair. At least you have the composition of the committee right this year-two members from the government, two from the opposition and one from the cross bench. But it is a flagrant breach of our conventions that you appoint a government chair.
The estimates committee has worked very well for the ACT-for the government and for the Assembly. It does not matter who is in government. It has been a rigorous process. It is made much more so when it does not appear to be a creature of the government and when government members are able to try to ensure that the debate is not as rigorous and the questioning is not as thorough as they could be. It is a perception thing as much as anything else.
It does not particularly matter what happens around the rest of the country. We in this place pride ourselves on being a little bit different. We pride ourselves on having a very strong committee system-a very strong committee system. Amendments such as this simply detract from the strength of our committee system. They wind it back. Committees are not meant to be rubber stamps of the government. Committees are meant to be there to hold the government accountable, especially in estimates committees. One of the best ways of ensuring that that perception is maintained is to maintain the tradition-it was a tradition in this place until only recently-of having a non-government chair.
DR FOSKEY (Molonglo) (11.11): I am going to oppose this amendment. I think it should be a basic principle that the committee elects its own chair. It is very sad that the government feels that it has to shore up its position to have certainty in having the chairmanship, to have control of the committee one way or the other.
In every year since I have been here, the declaration, election and establishment of the estimates committee have been subject to some controversy. I have no idea what