Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2003 Week 2 Hansard (4 March) . . Page.. 416..
MR SMYTH (continuing):
From my perspective, some of the opening exchanges in the meeting of the PAC were not acceptable, but we have not put these things into the report. The report is simply a straight bat on the bill. The Treasurer made comments about some of the questions being, I think, anally repetitive. The nature of budgets is that they can tend to be very repetitive-so I don't shy away from asking those questions.
The committee asked about alternative sources for funding of departmental priorities. In particular, the head of Chief Minister's Department was asked what-if he did not receive the appropriation-would have to be foregone. His reply was that that would be a matter for government. He invited the PAC committee to review the program allocations and pick for itself which programs were not to be proceeded with. He said that it is as simple as that.
I do not think that that is appropriate. It was a reasonable question. If there was not additional expenditure available, what would have had to be changed? One of the priorities of budgeting is that sometimes you look at what needs to be cut. In particular, as the government has said, programs such as the prison might have to disappear. Mr Speaker, it is very important that questions posed by the committee are taken seriously.
The third area I would like to speak to is the McLeod inquiry. The McLeod inquiry has picked up $400,000 for the conduct of that inquiry. Yet, when the committee asked questions about how that number had been derived and whether Mr McLeod had been asked for his opinion, the answer was no-that they had not spoken to Mr McLeod. It seems unfortunate that that has happened, because I do not think anybody would like to see such an inquiry underfunded.
It is interesting that, later that day, a spokeswoman for the Chief Minister said that Mr McLeod would review all submissions and refer those raising potentially insensitive issues to the head of Chief Minister's Department-so there was obviously some correspondence going on. It is interesting that, with regard to the PAC, there was no communication with Mr McLeod on how the inquiry would be conducted-and that was why he had not had any input into the value of moneys put aside for it-yet clearly the Chief Minister's office was, at that stage, talking to Mr McLeod.
The final point is about the total cost of the bushfires. As the Treasurer has rightly said, the financial consequences of the bushfire disaster may take up to three years to be finally resolved. We think it is important, certainly in the short term-so for the next five quarters-that the accounting be made public. Therefore, one of the recommendations is that, perhaps in the financial statements for the next five quarters, as a discrete item, the expenditure relating to the bushfires and the position as it emerges be included for the information of all.
Mr Speaker, I would like to thank my colleagues on the committee-Ms Tucker and Ms MacDonald-for their work, especially coming in this morning to make sure the report was ready for tabling. I particularly acknowledge the work of Derek Abbot, the secretary to the committee. He had very tight timeframes to work to and has done fabulously well in putting the report together for tabling this morning.