Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 1998 Week 4 Hansard (25 June) . . Page.. 1086 ..
MR KAINE (continuing):
But I think that, when you look at the thing in the cold, hard light of day and you forget the rhetoric that people like Michael Moore throw out, it is a very pedestrian budget and one in which perhaps the Government could have done better, as I say, in light of where we sit in the term of this Government. When I talk about looking at the budget, I mean having a superficial look at it, because that is all we have had the opportunity to do.
Mr Moore even complained in the early hours of this morning, when he was being asked to debate an almost one-line amendment to the Gaming Act, that he had not had time to consider the ramifications. Yet here we are, 48 hours after the Chief Minister tabled a very comprehensive budget, trying to make an intelligent contribution to the debate. How can you? As Mr Moore said, you have a look at the summary, and that gives you the broad overview; if you want to know more, you have to get into the detail. He is right, because without getting into the detail you have not the faintest idea what the budget is doing.
There are all sorts of goodies hidden in there, I am sure. In fact, the Minister for Urban Services made a comment yesterday about the big box of goodies that we have had delivered to us. I do not know whether they are sugar-coated pills or not yet, because I have not had a chance to find out. The bottom line is, Mr Temporary Deputy Speaker, that the Estimates Committee will find out, because there are days and days in which the Estimates Committee will have the opportunity to question Ministers and senior public officials about what these figures, in fact, mean. So, in a few weeks' time, we will be able to have a better and more informed debate about how good the budget is.
But just looking at the figures does make you wonder. We still have a $140m operating deficit. When you look at the appropriation compared to the amount actually intended to be spent this year, you find that we have an appropriation of $1.530m approximately and we have a total expenditure of $1.707m. So, we are planning to spend $177m more than we are appropriating. It will be interesting to go through the budget and find out where the rest is coming from and how we can expend more than we are appropriating. Those are just the little things that the Estimates Committee will have much fun with. Regrettably, I will not be here for most of the period; so I will have to leave it to my colleagues - Mr Quinlan and others - to get to the bottom dollar.
Mr Temporary Deputy Speaker, the one thing that I specifically want to deal with is the fact that 1998-99 is the year in which taxation by stealth becomes firmly embedded in the ACT budget. We have had a little bit of a snippet before. We are still paying the levy on our drivers licences every year to cover the fifth ambulance. I wonder when the Minister for Health or the Minister for emergency services, whichever is responsible, is going to actually build the cost of that into his own budget and stop ripping $15 off every driver every year when he gets his drivers licence. The $15 is a hidden tax. I think the Government believes that, if you leave it there long enough, people will forget that it is actually a tax and they will lose sight entirely of what it was originally imposed for.
One has to ask how much money the Government is really raising each year in terms of this levy and how much of it actually goes to the operation of the fifth ambulance. In other words, it is on the face of it, hypothecated. That used to be a nasty word.