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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2004 Week 04 Hansard (Thursday, 1 April 2004) . . Page.. 1560 ..

We have here a case in point. A question has arisen in relation to child protection. I do not think anybody in this place would think that we ought not to apply resources to the question that has arisen. The committee is virtually saying in this report that, because you put it in an Appropriation Bill, you cannot do anything about it until May. But if I had “foreseen the need for expenditure” the day after the Appropriation Bill was tabled in this house and the money was not included in the Appropriation Bill, I could be spending it. I have informed the House of its inclusion in the Appropriation Bill—so there is more information before the Assembly—yet the process of addressing something that does not need to be addressed is totally hamstrung: all of a sudden, if it is in an Appropriation Bill and is before an estimates committee, the government ought not be able to do anything about it. That seems to me to be an irrational position that has devolved. We can make all the noises about respect for the Estimates Committee—we have to; that is part of the process—but we also have to respect the practicalities of the Treasurer’s Advance.

You have seen by virtue of this report that an examination took place. We have, even now, the most stringent of requirements compared to other jurisdictions across Australia. Why have we got that? We have got that largely because we have minority government and because, as I have said in this place before, this sort of area becomes the soft target—without really considering what it involves, not just for government, not for me, the Treasurer, but for administration and for practical good government.

I am not sure that I picked up on exactly what Mr Smyth said as I was interrupted at the time. But I think there was something of a threat in there. Even though you have a legal opinion that you can spend money on child protection if that need is perceived before the date when the Appropriation Bill may or may not be passed, there will be some question of contempt of the process. I ask members—I ask Mr Smyth particularly as he I think was making that sort of connection—to think again about the practicalities. I do not want to just hang on the matter of child protection because it is an emotive issue and milk an emotive issue. A whole raft of expenditures might take place under the Treasurer’s Advance, and I counsel members to look at the Treasurer’s Advance report of the last four or five years. We have seen all sorts of various expenditures. Before it became a topical issue, before it fell into the soft target zone, it was pretty much the Treasurer’s chequebook. I know that Ms Carnell used it for this, that or the other thing. I recall that the opposition of the time did not make too much of a fuss about it. We understand that you do need some sort of flexibility. Even the smallest of businesses generally has a petty cash tin in order to continue to operate and not have the whole wall lost for the want of a nail.

I counsel members to consider this. In relation to child protection we have reached the stage where the minister is “cash managing”. The date is nearing when I will have to find some other way to fund expenditures that are appropriately being made. Whether or not the Appropriation Bill is passed, we have a perceived need. I have a legal opinion and I do not appreciate the threat that it could be some form of contempt, when the process is going to take three months. That just makes a mockery of the process and of the fact that the government has come in here and included that expenditure in an appropriation bill as a matter of ex ante accountability to the House.

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