Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2010 Week 07 Hansard (Wednesday, 30 June 2010) . . Page.. 2979 ..
I think the Treasurer has a remarkable capacity for dithering when firm decisions are called for. She has proven that in the two budgets that she has presided over. She has failed to achieve budget savings, failed to impose her will on ACT departments and agencies and seems to be simply letting the world swirl around her. The Treasurer does not have a plan to reduce the budget deficits. All the ACT has is a sit-and-do-nothing approach while the world moves on. Indeed, we see that even Premier Keneally and her Treasurer Roozendaal in New South Wales have been able to deliver tax cuts and surpluses. The Treasurer will have her own take on how they achieve that. No doubt, she will repeat it. But at the end of the day—
Ms Gallagher: A gift from the commonwealth.
MR SMYTH: Maybe that is because of her relationship with the commonwealth, the relationship that we see there. The problem is that we really do not have a plan. From the time that the Treasurer has taken over, we have had statement after statement that does not engender confidence in her approach, that it was guesswork, that these were simply estimates, that they were somehow meaningless. But they are not. They are the estimated expenditures for the coming year. They are important, they are a sign, they are guidance.
Then we had, to back that up, that lack of sense of purpose and knowledge of the budget. Indeed, during the discussions we had a Chief Minister who did not know that he had made certain cuts, did not know that he had said certain things about the state of the economy. That, of course, does not leave us with confidence in the approach of this government.
Then we saw some belated announcements by the Treasurer in the 2010 budget of some measures to constrain spending. But really it is an admission of the failure of her 2009 budget plan. In May 2009, Ms Gallagher told the Canberra community that the fiscal environment meant that cuts to spending were required. But she was unable to provide any of these cuts until her announcement of 2 March 2010. What did she do then? She nominated a freeze on the employment of non-essential public servants which, I think, has proven to be rather a silly decision, a decision that is more akin to a blunt fiscal policy instrument than a carefully thought-out strategy. It is a strategy that was seeming to be: “We must do something. This is the only thing that we can think of.”
It does raise further questions. What functions are performed by non-essential public servants, at what level are these public servants employed and what effect will this freeze have on the employment of those who are just starting out on their working journeys? Incredibly, in March 2010—that is, two months before the 2010 budget—the Treasurer suddenly realised that we cannot pretend that it is business as usual and continue on our merry way.
As the 2010 budget was being framed, the Treasurer had to work out how to explain that the savings that were anticipated had not been gained. This is not the way to develop and implement public policy and certainly not the approach for the most important public policy action in any year—that is, the annual budget. The Treasurer has failed, again, to provide any kind of budget deficit reduction plan. The Treasurer has failed to provide a new vision for the path ahead for the ACT and for its economy.