Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 1998 Week 5 Hansard (27 August) . . Page.. 1508 ..
MR BERRY (continuing):
These committees provide the principal opportunity for senators to scrutinise, not only the expenditure proposals of the government, but the operations and activities of government departments and agencies.
I will repeat that for emphasis:
... the operations and activities of government departments and agencies. In effect, they have become twice-yearly general inquisitions into government operations. As such, they are regarded by senators as among the most valuable of the Senate's activities.
It is not surprising that the Government is agitated about this Estimates Committee report because there are some criticisms of the Government. There are 50 recommendations which, to one degree or another, are critical of the Government. Also, there are five dissenting recommendations which are critical of the Government. You can always test how effective you have been in opposition by the jitters on the Government benches, and I think today's response by the Government was a fairly good barometer of the success of the Estimates Committee process.
I heard some moaning as well - I think it was from Mr Moore - about the adversarial nature of things. Mr Moore might recall, if he cares to, an instance when Labor was in office. I checked with my office a moment ago and I said, "I seem to remember being in the hot seat as a Minister for a long time once; I think it was for about 18 hours". We seemed to think it was about 18 hours all-up, as the Health Minister, and at one stage we were up until about one o'clock in the morning being harried by, guess who? This lot opposite. So let us not kid ourselves about adversarial politics. Now, adversarial. Adversary; opponent; oppose; disagree. I think this is what that boils down to. We disagree with them. If you happen to be a control freak, anybody who disagrees with you becomes the enemy, and some respond better than others. Mr Moore responds rather badly to criticism.
All of the criticism and constructive criticism that is mentioned in these reports was mentioned in good faith and was endorsed by the majority of committee members. Fifty recommendations were endorsed by the majority of us, Mr Rugendyke and Mr Osborne included, and the end result has been a committee report which has given the Government the jitters. Well, that is life. Maybe, in the short time that five people had available to them, with the support of the secretariat, to look at the entire budget, there might be a couple of sentences that are wrong, a couple of numbers wrong, and maybe even a couple of words wrong, but at the end of the day it is the principle of the recommendations that has to be looked at. That is the most important thing. I think the principles which are behind these recommendations right across the board are pretty sound.
The issue of not looking at the budget was completely exaggerated by the Chief Minister. She knows that over the years these estimates committees have broadened their scope far beyond looking just at the budget papers. No better example of that would be herself. I think it is the height of hypocrisy for the Chief Minister to come in here and bleat about the broadening of the operations of the Estimates Committee.