Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2005 Week 14 Hansard (Tuesday, 22 November 2005) . . Page.. 4408 ..
Remember, the act requires the minister to consult the Assembly before negotiations start. When the minister has something on the table, it has to go to the committee and, before it is signed, the minister must have regard to the recommendation of the committee. What are we going to replace that with? We are going to compile and maintain a list of current negotiations towards intergovernmental agreements, from signature by ministers, for the information of Assembly members.
How will we get access to that? That list will be tabled approximately every six months. If you are not worried about the word “approximately”, Mr Speaker, I certainly am. The hospital waiting list reports used to be tabled in this place. On approximately the 21st of the month they were made available and they were tabled in this place as soon as was practicable. Minster Corbell, the Minster for Health—one of the ministers who will be off negotiating and signing interstate agreements—then said, “We are going to reduce that to three months, but you will get more information.”
When the first three-monthly report came out, the page dealing with hospital waiting lists was blank. Guess what? They were then put out every six months. So I worry about lists that are tabled approximately every six months by this government. The documents are getting thinner, they are coming less often and they are containing less information.
The Chief Minister has said that ministers will table in the Assembly the full text of intergovernmental agreements. I think we have to be worried about that because the only way to read that is that they will be tabled after they have been signed. The government will maintain a publicly accessible, whole-of-government register of new intergovernmental agreements. Again, it sounds to me like this is going to tabled or made available after the agreements have been signed.
I think there are some serious concerns here about whether or not the Assembly has some sway or some right over the executive. It is interesting to note that the ACT Assembly’s representative on the working Party of Representatives of Scrutiny of Legislation Committees throughout Australia, whose report was signed off and agreed to in October 1996, was Rosemary Follett MLA, chair of the Standing Committee on Legal Affairs and former Chief Minister of the ACT. I assume she went there with some power and support from the Labor Party, something that apparently, under the Chief Minister who vowed to be more honest, more open and more accountable, is about to go out the window, probably just before lunch on one fine November day.
We sought some more information from the Chief Minister’s office, and I thank them for providing that in a timely manner. I understand the Greens posed similar questions to ours, and Dr Foskey might have something to say as well. The new system is all based on a firm commitment that information will be tabled “as soon as reasonably practical” after agreements are signed. The new arrangements allow—they do not compel—ministers to consult the Assembly. Each minister will be responsible for ensuring appropriate consultation. There is no definition of “appropriate consultation”. It is just here in the writing. How soon after an agreement has been reached must the minister inform the Assembly? It is as soon as reasonably practicable. It sounds a bit vague, a bit wishy-washy and a bit bland. It sounds a bit like: I do not wish to be scrutinised by the Assembly as to what I am doing as a minister.