None . . Page.. 1378 ..
I believe, Mr Speaker, that delays in annual reports have caused considerable difficulties to estimates committees in past years. I think we should allow departments some time in which to accommodate a new timetable if these amendments are agreed to. I commend the amendments to the Assembly. I believe it is only a two-week difference. If departments have time to plan for it they should be able to accommodate it quite readily. It will make all the difference in the world to the hearings of the Estimates Committee, which I am sure all members know can be a very rushed period and a period in which members of the Estimates Committee, and other members who are interested, are often so inundated with information and documents that they constantly have the feeling that there is just not enough time to give to all of them. The annual reports are the most fundamental documents that the Estimates Committee requires for its work. I believe it is essential that the annual reports are available to the Estimates Committee in time for it to give them full and ample consideration and also to be able to scrutinise the contents of those annual reports in hearings with the Minister and with departments. I commend the amendments to the Assembly.
MRS CARNELL (Chief Minister) (4.26): I had not seen those amendments until now, until this minute, and I think that is a little bit unfortunate in this sort of situation because there are other consequences of passing this sort of amendment, not the least of which being that when you change the time by which an annual report must be presented you also, obviously, have to change the timeframes by which other reporting happens within the department. Certainly, that can be done by instrument; but it does mean that the whole timeframe for an annual report must be changed right from the beginning through to the end. I am advised that those timeframes would be quite difficult to achieve. If that is what the Assembly wants to do, that is fine. It is certainly not something on which we are going to die in a ditch. If we want the best possible annual reports, I am advised that a three-month timeframe is a quite tight timeframe. It is obviously in the hands of the Assembly.
MR MOORE (4.27): Mr Speaker, I think the amendments put up by Ms Follett are very sensible. I can easily understand why it is that people from within the bureaucracy would advise the Chief Minister that they do not want three months; they probably would prefer six months. Looking at the last five years, a number of times 12 months or 24 months would have been ideal. That is why the Chief Minister originally put the legislation up - to tighten up the system. If we are going to make the departments responsive to the work of the Estimates Committee the Assembly as a whole ought to ensure that we have the information in appropriate time and not allow the departments to have a time that could effectively run beyond the Estimates Committee. The most important point that Ms Follett made was that that does not apply to this year. Once this legislation has passed, departments are going to know that as of 1996 they will have 10 weeks after the end of the financial year. That is plenty of time for them to set out their timeframes and to ensure that they comply with the law that goes through today. It gives me great pleasure to support the amendments as part of my general support of the Bill.