Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 1998 Week 6 Hansard (1 September) . . Page.. 1675 ..
MR BERRY (5.23): One of the most striking aspects of the Government's budget and the approach it took to scrutiny is the obfuscation and the determined way the Government sought to avoid opening up the budget to comparison with, say, last year's budget. The Chief Minister, of course, rises to her feet and says, "Nobody understands accrual accounting in this place - only me". She is the only one that can possibly understand that! Of course, that is the reason, if anybody dares to raise a question about the cloak of secrecy which is placed over the budget. They are always hit with a tirade of invective about their lack of understanding of accrual accounting and anything else that comes to mind. Let me put one thing on the record, as it might remind people who have a bit of an understanding of accrual accounting: Only Labor came up with election promises set out in accrual terms. The Government could only do it in cash terms. Let us not forget that.
Let us have a look at the "Budget at a glance" document. We went to great pains during the Estimates Committee process to get the Government to tell us how they were spending more in various areas. The Under Treasurer was less than helpful. I, for one, am very critical of the performance in the Estimates Committee because he was less than helpful, though I suppose he was largely responding to the actions of his political masters. But the Government should have been able to explain to us exactly how we could compare this year's budget with last year's. Indeed, looking at the Under Treasurer's response, I think aided and abetted by the Treasurer, it was very clear that they were going to stubbornly refuse to be cooperative in the context of scrutiny of a budget. That became very clear. Nevertheless, things were discovered.
One of the most shameful aspects of funding cuts in the budget, the Government's approach to its grants program, was in relation to arts funding. This was a secret cut that did not appear anywhere in the budget papers. The Government has an obligation to ensure that, when there are significant cuts to the arts or other areas which affect our cultural future, it should be open and honest about it instead of being secretive and trying to keep the cuts out of the public domain.
As my colleague said earlier in today's debate, because the Chief Minister was having a squabble with the ANU about rates, the Institute of the Arts was given a bit of biffo to straighten it out. That is not the way we should be doing business in this place. The Chief Minister smiles. It might be tough and hairy chested to go around smacking people around the chops like that, but it has no relevance in the context of developing a satisfactory cultural outcome for the Territory. The fact is that the arts funding debacle was a disgrace. It will be long remembered by many people because of the impact that it will have on the development of our culture.
Mrs Carnell saved most of her vehemence for the recommendations in the dissenting report from my colleague Mr Corbell and me.
Ms Carnell: Because they were stupid.
MR BERRY: She interjects, "Because they were stupid". I will come to one right now that did not strike me as being particularly stupid, and that was the one about conflict of interest. I know the Government is not particularly interested in these issues, but what it does not seem to realise is how short a step it is between failing to address the issues of