Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2010 Week 01 Hansard (Thursday, 11 February 2010) . . Page.. 280 ..
I would, however, flag, as members can see from my amendment, that the government does not see why both of the non-executive members cannot participate in this inquiry. It is quite clear that this committee will have both a non-government majority and a non-government chair, and the establishment of a committee with two non-executive government members will not impact on those arrangements.
Indeed, I think it is unfortunate that one government member will miss out on the opportunity to participate fully as a member of the committee in this process if Mr Smyth’s motion is adopted as proposed. If there are non-executive members of government keen and willing to participate, why should they be denied that opportunity as a full member of the committee? I would ask the Assembly to consider that, in the same way that there are two members nominated by the Greens and two members nominated by the opposition, there be two members nominated by the government.
MS HUNTER (Ginninderra—Parliamentary Convenor, ACT Greens) (10:36): The Greens will be supporting Mr Smyth’s motion, as we see no reason not to establish the estimates committee today. I will note that while it is quite early to establish this committee, it is important to note that the Assembly secretariat will be called upon to provide services over a longer period of time. As has been discussed in this chamber before, the Assembly committee secretariat works extremely hard under a number of constraints, including limitations on staffing and funding. I trust that members will bear these restraints in mind when calling upon the secretariat services.
It is debatable whether establishing the committee early will assist the secretariat with the complex administrative and resource arrangements necessary for this committee. However, we hope it will facilitate making the necessary preparations. In the spirit of the parliamentary agreement item 2.12, which aims to establish additional support for the estimates committee and, therefore, improved scrutiny, the Greens will again be pushing for the engagement of external expertise. That happened last year, as Mr Smyth has mentioned. That expertise last year was provided by Tony Harris. I understand from members of the committee that it was very valuable to have that independent advice.
I understand that the office of the Speaker is currently considering similar arrangements for this year. I encourage that to happen and I hope that the establishment of the committee early will facilitate ample time to consider expressions of interest and engage a suitable applicant. The Greens agree that the process of scrutiny within the Assembly is of the highest importance as the estimates process provides an opportunity to examine the operations of government as well as playing a key role in the parliamentary scrutiny of the executive.
It is also vital to remember that the estimates committee performs two significant functions. First, it provides individual members, especially non-government members, with an unparalleled opportunity to gather information on the operations of government. While members may seek information from the government during question time, they can only ask questions of one minister. Therefore, they are not able to question relevant officials as directly and as extensively as they can at an estimates hearing.