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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 1996 Week 12 Hansard (19 November) . . Page.. 3767 ..

MS McRAE (continuing):

First of all, I would like to highlight the quality of the budget documentation. In doing this I will be referring to recommendations 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 and 11. It was a great disappointment to the Estimates Committee that, yet again, we had to worry about recommendations in terms of the clarity of the papers. The Estimates Committee grants that, in time, the accrual accounting system, supported by the Assembly, will yield a great amount of detail which has not previously been available. That was never in contestation. The Estimates Committee was told that, this being the first of the accrual accounts budgets, comparative data to the detail often wanted by members was simply not available. The committee was very disappointed about this. We felt that, at the very least, some greater level of care could have been given to the information that clearly was of interest and concern to the Assembly and to the general public.

Unfortunately, on top of that, in the new accrual accounts system there are still major gaps. It is absolutely crucial - and there is a recommendation about this later in the report - that we know what expenses there are, for instance, for accommodation and/or rent. We were told that the Government is working on a paper on this; but it is just one of the gaps that we think do not then allow for the argument to be put that these are perhaps the most open accounts we have ever seen. We have a government that has undertaken a major shift in ownership of public assets; but, as yet - I am not suggesting that it will not come - we do not have a thorough accounting of these costs.

Recommendations 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 and 11 all request amendments to budget papers which will improve accessibility of information to the general public and the Assembly - and future estimates committees, of course. Further, the committee requires better information on environmental programs, better performance measures that include qualitative rather than just quantitative measures - again, the Government has attempted, in some cases, to develop these - and more transparent information on forgone revenue, particularly in grants to industry. Some of these recommendations are not new, unfortunately. I sincerely hope that we will never need to make such recommendations again.

The committee in general, not unexpectedly, found the budget papers confusing and difficult to follow. The committee soon discovered that they were not on their own. As is noted in the Estimates Committee report, so did the Auditor-General. His concerns were very serious. Contrary to some public claims, they were not limited to the discrepancies between the audited and unaudited accounts. Since the Auditor-General is to report to the Assembly on the accounts, the Estimates Committee chose to confine the report to the comments that they did make, to raise the concerns and to just note that the Auditor-General's report on the entire budget documentation will be further scrutinised by the Public Accounts Committee of this Assembly.

All in all, it is not a very satisfactory outcome for this new set of accounts; but, as I have said, it is the first step of a new system that the Assembly has endorsed and the Estimates Committee is confident that, in time, some of the promises will be better realised. What is most important, though, is that the Government must heed the message of these recommendations - - -

Debate interrupted.

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