Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 1995 Week 9 Hansard (23 November) . . Page.. 2364..
MR HUMPHRIES (Attorney-General) (3.25): I move:
That this Assembly reaffirms the principles of the Westminster system embodied in the "financial initiative of the Crown" and the limits that that initiative places on non-Executive Members in moving amendments other than those to reduce items of proposed expenditure.
Can I explain to the Assembly what it is that I am doing with the moving of this motion.
Ms Follett: "You are a late convert" is all I can say; you are a very late convert.
MR HUMPHRIES: You have the option of not supporting the motion if you take that view, Ms Follett. It is entirely up to you. Mr Speaker, it seems to me that the issue of the operation of a number of crucial provisions in both the self-government legislation and our own standing orders, although this has been discussed in the past, has not yet been finally settled. Particularly, section 65 of the self-government Act and standing orders 200 and 201 of our standing orders put limitations on the capacity of the ACT Assembly to take certain decisions in respect of budgetary matters.
On this occasion I am not interested so much in taking a particular stand on the issue of whether governments should frame budgets or not, although that is certainly an issue on which I will be making a comment. Rather, I am interested in providing for some certainty in this debate. It has been the practice in the past that governments from both sides of the house have at various stages attempted to use either of those standing orders or section 65, or both, to eliminate certain proposals before the house, whether by way of substantive amendment or legislation or motion to achieve certain budgetary goals. It is my belief that we owe it to future Assemblies, if not to ourselves, to attempt to clear up the purview of section 65 and standing orders 200 and 201.
The principle on which I believe the Assembly should proceed is the principle embodied in the concept or doctrine of the financial initiative of the Crown, which reserves to the government certain prerogatives to take certain steps in relation to the appropriation and use of public money. I believe that the way in which this has been dealt with in the past certainly would lead to some confusion. The Assembly, as Mr Moore said earlier today in question time, two years ago put in place a provision to require certain decisions to be made in respect of the way in which the budget was administered; that is, it required the former Government to expend money in the education budget in such a way as not to reduce the number of teachers or increase the student-teacher ratio in the course of administering that budget.
Irrespective of whether that was a sound decision or not, I think it is appropriate for the Assembly to determine whether such a precedent should stand or whether it is appropriate to make clear the limitations on such steps in the Assembly. The concept of the financial initiative of the Crown, which is described in House of Representatives Practice as "the constitutional and parliamentary principle that only the Government may initiate or move to increase appropriations or taxes", is summarised in that book in three ways: