Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 1998 Week 7 Hansard (23 September) . . Page.. 2043 ..
MR OSBORNE (continuing):
Mr Speaker, I consider this Bill to be of great importance to the future wellbeing of the ACT. It is about financial responsibility, a subject which governments usually avoid speaking too much about if they possibly can. This Bill is about identifying certain financial goals and setting in train long-term plans to achieve them.
One thing I have learnt since coming into this place is that politicians in general only think in blocks of three years, and we all know why that is, Mr Speaker. I must admit that there have been times when I have done that. A more cynical view, Mr Speaker, is that the definition of a successful government is one that is still there on Friday night. I believe that as a parliament we need to break out of that perception and begin to take greater responsibility for the long-term consequences of our financial decisions. Instead of just concentrating on what the Territory's financial situation is likely to be at the time of the next election in three years' time, I believe that this Assembly should also be bound to financial principles which look ahead 15 to 20 years.
Mr Speaker, this Bill has arisen out of my concern that successive Territory governments have accumulated debt. It has been very easy for them to do so, and I have mentioned my concern on numerous occasions over the past three years about the fact that a legacy of debt for the next generation of Canberrans has already been established. It is fairly obvious that the track record of the financial management of the ACT has been fairly poor so far and it is the next generation who will be paying. Mr Speaker, I do not consider that situation to be good enough.
This Bill seeks to establish in law four underlying principles of responsible financial management which the government of the day and the rest of the Assembly must adhere to when preparing and considering the Territory's annual budget. The application of these principles would first of all see strategies developed and followed to deal with government debt, and then will ensure that our debts are always kept at a manageable level.
Consider how easy it has been for successive ACT governments to have racked up debt. At the time of self-government just nine years ago the first ACT Government was handed the reins of the city with how much debt, Mr Speaker? Zero. And there was about $180m in cash reserves. After five years, when I was elected to this place, the cash was all gone and the Follett Government had already been borrowing for two years to fund its annual deficits. The cash deficit for that particular financial year, 1994-95, was $82m. The unfunded superannuation entitlement for government employees was growing by over $100m a year and had already accumulated to over half a billion dollars. While the Territory had assets of around $9 billion, our total liabilities were approaching $1.5 billion and growing at the rate of nearly $200m a year. That is hardly what you would call a glowing endorsement for whatever economic plan was being followed at the time, assuming, of course, that they had one.