Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2002 Week 14 Hansard (11 December) . . Page.. 4207..
MR HUMPHRIES (continuing):
From accrual accounting to the disclosure of government contracts, there has been a consistent pattern of highlighting transparency and accountability in government processes. Transparency, of course, is the key to successful democratic government.
With an articulate and educated community, the only missing ingredient for enhancing the democratic experience is information. Today I am presenting, on behalf of the opposition, two bills, which between them add up to an ACT charter of budget honesty.
This bill is part of a package designed to mandate the documentation of financial strategy, the provision of a full financial picture prior to polling day and the beginning of the concept of intergenerational reporting in the ACT context. These measures are intended to empower citizens and give them a good impression of the territory's position and where it is headed.
The Costing of Election Commitments Bill 2002 deals with the thorny issue of election promises. Prior to the 2001 election there was much discussion and debate about the costing of policies of parties contesting that election. The policies of the major parties were costed in very different ways. The policies of the Liberal government were costed by the ACT Treasury and those of the Labor opposition by an academic from the ANU-both, one might say, as lay observers. Both processes could be said to be potentially unsatisfactory.
The Liberal Party's costings were tainted by the apparent conflict of interest in the role of Treasury as a servant of government, in general, and as a servant, in this case, of a particular party's policies. The ALP's costings were tainted by questions about the quality of the advice given and the resources available to that party.
Since the election, the costings used by the government appear to have been very greatly changed-at least, the estimates put forward during the election do not correlate very closely with the actual costs of proposals brought forward in the Labor Party's first budget. Perhaps the government has changed its mind about what it wants to do with some of those things, but it does throw some doubt on exactly what was achieved by putting out costings that were formulated in various ways.
There is a need for objectivity and for there to be a quality costing resource available to parties that seriously contest an ACT election. I mentioned the Liberal and Labor parties. Extensive costing of the policies of the Democrats or the Greens did not occur. That would be, understandably, very difficult, given the potentially great costs associated with getting election promises properly costed.
People are entitled to know whether the policies announced, particularly by alternative governments, are affordable or whether they will threaten the bottom line of the jurisdiction. The maintenance of the bottom line is a matter of some moment. The idea of deficit budgeting is not acceptable to the community. People want to know whether the promises of alternative governments, or governments in power, are affordable with respect to that bottom line.