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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2018 Week 8 Hansard (16 August) . . Page.. 3102 ..

Detail stage

MADAM SPEAKER: I remind members that in debating order of the day No 1, executive business they may also address their remarks to executive business order of the day No 2 and Assembly business orders of the day relating to the report of the Select Committee on Estimates 2018-2019 and the government response.

Chief Minister, Treasury and Economic Development Directorate—Part 1.5

MR COE (Yerrabi—Leader of the Opposition) (4.01): This particular directorate—and this particular item for discussion—is huge, to say the least, as far as the scope of ACT government activity is concerned. I will be speaking to several aspects of it, in particular, the treasury and economic development components. My colleague Mrs Dunne will chat about arts, and there may be some other contributions as well.

We have heard the Chief Minister say much about the state of the territory's finances. Much of what he says is about the government's headline operating balance, but there is much more to the budget than just that rather narrow figure. To echo the comments of former Chief Minister Jon Stanhope and former Treasury official Khalid Ahmed in a recent Canberra Times piece, this surplus is an illusion. The Treasurer's management of our finances has been pretty ordinary. A return to surplus has been promised but not delivered since 2012. This has occurred again and again despite promises from the government every year that a surplus is just over the horizon.

The treatment of the government's stock of renewable energy certificates as revenue, despite the policy being clear that they are planning to surrender them in 2021, hides a significant budget deficit that will continue to add to the territory's debt. Excluding these certificates, the underlying budget position is a deficit of $96 million, moving to another deficit of $66 million in 2019-20 according to the headline position.

The government continues to spend more than it receives. When you consider all incomings and all outgoings, the deficit is $485 million. It is a figure the government does not like to talk about. They would much rather talk about the headline net operating balance.

The headline figure does not include government trading enterprises, so it does not include Icon Water and ACTION, and it does not include the sale and purchase of land or other physical assets such as buildings and infrastructure. Instead the figure includes estimated long-term capital growth on superannuation investments and is not included in the audited financial accounts signed off by the Treasurer, Under Treasurer and Auditor-General. It also does not conform to government accounting standards. So we have to be very cautious when we base decisions purely off the headline operating balance or before we simply judge the government's financial management on that figure alone.

The government's net operating balance is not a comprehensive measure of the state of the finances. There is a reason it does not get audited by the Auditor-General.

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