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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2010 Week 05 Hansard (Thursday, 6 May 2010) . . Page.. 1846 ..

Emergency Services) (10.39): Madam Deputy Speaker, the government will be pleased to support this motion today. In doing so, I would like to make some brief observations about this process. I note the desire of non-executive members who constitute the estimates committee to ensure that answers to their questions are provided. I would say on the part of the executive that the executive makes every effort to answer all questions that are placed on notice during the estimates process.

However, this has been a process that has some frustration from the executive’s perspective as well in that, firstly, often very large volumes of questions are lodged very late in the estimates process and government agencies are faced with the prospect of answering literally hundreds of questions on notice, often very detailed questions. As a result, it has simply been impracticable—in fact, not feasible—for those questions to have been answered in the time frame subsequently imposed by the estimates committee. I would encourage non-executive members to give consideration to ensuring that as many questions as possible are lodged as early as possible in the estimates process. That would facilitate timely answers from the government and assist the committee in its deliberations.

Secondly, I make the point that often it has been the practice of ministers to send answers to questions on notice to the Speaker following the expiry of the estimates committee process. I have signed numerous letters to the Speaker saying: “This question has been outstanding. I know that the select committee is dissolved, however, I need to be able to send this answer to someone.” Therefore, I think this change is a good one in that it provides a clear mechanism for ministers to respond to questions once the select committee has been dissolved. It has been very unclear and ambiguous as to what the arrangement has been to date, and this gives us that clarity.

I simply reiterate that the government supports this approach. It gives some clarity to the operation of this important part of the Assembly’s functions. However, I reiterate also the executive’s preference for questions to be provided as early as possible to provide for timely answers. Questions arriving late in the process, even though perhaps within the time limit established, do present particular challenges for the executive in responding.

MS LE COUTEUR (Molonglo) (10.42): The Greens also support this proposed temporary standing order. I was on the estimates committee last year, and it is very frustrating to put in questions that are not answered in the time frame necessary for the estimates committee report. I do appreciate some of the statements that Mr Corbell made about the difficulty of answering them sometimes, but it is also very important that the questions be answered. No member is asking questions frivolously just to fill in time. All the questions are asked because the answers are required.

The other point I would like to make is that part of the reasons we are asking so many questions is that sometimes the budget papers can be impenetrable—that is the word that comes to mind. It is not always very easy to understand what is in them. The government could save itself an awful lot of work if the budget papers were improved. I know the estimates committee last time made comments along those lines. Without having any inside knowledge, of course, I suspect that the next estimates committee may have similar comments, because the papers are not very user friendly.

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