Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 1998 Week 5 Hansard (27 August) . . Page.. 1505 ..
MS TUCKER (5.26): I was not a member of the committee this time, but I was there for quite a number of the committee hearings, and I was interested in the proceedings, as always. With reference to the issues that have been raised today, particularly about the function of the Estimates Committee, I have to support entirely what Simon Corbell and others from Labor have said on that matter. Obviously, the budget is the ultimate policy statement of government, and it is an opportunity for us to scrutinise not only the financial arrangements of government but also how those financial arrangements fit into policy. Obviously you cannot separate the two.
I disagree that Ms McRae handled it differently. She had a different style, yes, definitely; but on the question of whether or not members of the committee or visiting members were able to ask questions which were not strictly related to numbers, I remember Ms McRae saying on many occasions in previous Estimates Committee hearings, "Of course you can ask questions on policy; that is part of what the Estimates Committee is about". That, of course, is what we did again.
I would also like to comment on the way the budget is presented. The output map in the front of Budget Paper No. 4, I think it was, from memory, was very interesting in terms of how much less detail the Government gave this year. It was also interesting to see how inconsistent it was across government. Obviously there is no real coordination of how departments are determining how they will present their information, or how departments determine that through government.
This is what I found interesting when I challenged some of the officials about the decrease in the number of individual outputs and details that were listed. It was said that this was a useful thing because it would make the whole process, from memory, "transparent" and "simple". I remember saying at the time, "Hang on, we want information. We do not object to getting information. We want it. You cannot use the words `transparent' and `simple' as euphemisms for clear and good therefore".
In fact it was the diminution of the amount of information which made it quite difficult. You had to then look back at previous years' budgets when you were given more outputs, and then you would be able to say, "Well, we used to have this output. Now I want to ask what happened to that". I can remember one example related to child-care licences. There used to be an output that looked at breaches of licences or something like that. It no longer exists, so I would ask, "Well, what has happened there?". Of course, the information was not readily available and it would have to be sought. I think that is quite worrying from the point of view of accountability. The questions on outputs are obviously the way we understand what government is doing, and what it is doing compared to last year.
That was the other issue. We did not have the same ability - I agree with the report's recommendations on this - this year to actually compare easily. Some government departments did provide past years information in the back of the purchase agreement, I think it was from memory, and some did not. So, once again, it was inconsistent, and it certainly was not convenient.