Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2004 Week 4 Hansard (1 April) . . Page.. 1559..
MS TUCKER (continuing):
not override a decision of the Assembly by using the Treasurer's Advance. That recommendation is in response to the fact that Mr Quinlan said that he wanted to do that in this instance. If the Assembly were of the view that an estimates committee was not appropriate for one aspect of this supplementary appropriation, then that would have been decided by the Assembly.
The Treasurer expressed concerns about the delay in reporting at the time. It was the responsibility of the Assembly to divide that supplementary appropriation and have what was perceived to be appropriate go through the estimates process. If the funding for the Department of Education, Youth and Family Services was not included, it should have been. Perhaps it could have been reported on earlier, if that had been an issue. But the point is that the Assembly did not make that decision. For the Treasurer to then say, "The majority of the Assembly decided that they wanted an estimates process, but I am going to override it if I can, if it is legally possible, by using TA"is not acceptable.
MR QUINLAN (Treasurer, Minister for Economic Development, Business and Tourism and Minister for Sport, Racing and Gaming) (6.08): First of all, I thank the Standing Committee on Public Accounts for the report. There was a reasonably tight timeframe involved in this particular examination. I also thank the committee for its recommendations. It recognised that what has been put forward was impracticable. It sounded good but had some impracticability about it. Within the context of this particular Assembly, that has been quite refreshing.
Recommendation 4 raises some difficulty. It is not "We want to do whatever we like and ignore the Assembly or the primacy of the Assembly"; it is just not practicable. Members would have seen the last Appropriation Bill, which, by other requirements of accountability within this place, must be associated with supplementary, explanatory budget papers et cetera. It is a very reasonable process. What we are talking about here is a relatively elongated process. From gestation to the possible passing of an appropriation bill, we are looking at probably more than three months. The passing of the Appropriation Bill that was brought into this place in early March did not happen instantaneously; it required discussions at cabinet level and work to be done in the Treasury and then it was presented to the Assembly. The Assembly, in its wisdom, decided that there needed to be a "reasonable period of time"for an estimates committee to review that Appropriation Bill. I am not here to debate that point as it would be reflecting on a previous decision. However, this Appropriation Bill, if passed, will not be passed until early May. It started its journey in February and will not be passed until May-a quarter of a year.
The whole rationale behind the Treasurer's Advance is to allow some expeditious decisions to be taken and for there to be a margin of ex post accountability. I pointed out in previous discussions in relation to the Appropriation Bill that a certain amount of delusion is involved in all this. The level of accountability in the major Appropriation Bill, regardless of the fact that we debated it for almost 24 hours and after an estimates committee process, goes nowhere near the detail of 98 per cent of government expenditure. The position within the original Appropriation Bill is such that the government and the administration have tremendous scope to move and tremendous discretion for which they are accountable at the end of the day-again in an ex post fashion-either through the annual reports process or through delivery of service.