Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 1998 Week 10 Hansard (24 November) . . Page.. 2768 ..
MR KAINE (11.48): Mr Speaker, I am not going to say a great deal, but I do think that the Government's response to this report is, to use Mr Hird's words, rather precious. I refer you to page 2 of his comments. I thought that the Chief Minister's response that a lot of the recommendations of the report had nothing to do with money was an interesting one because there is nothing that requires the Estimates Committee, in the form that it was established for this year, to confine itself to financial matters. The Chief Minister referred to the terms of reference. The second part of the terms of reference in paragraph (1) is about looking at the annual and financial reports. The financial reports are certainly financial, but the annual reports are not. So, the committee was free to look at anything that is referred to in the annual reports of the agencies of government. For the Chief Minister to say, "All these recommendations are irrelevant because they are not to do with financial matters" is totally out of order. An interesting thing, of course, is that the terms of reference adopted by the Assembly for the Estimates Committee report this year were those put forward by the Chief Minister herself. If she does not like the terms of reference, perhaps next year she can come up with terms of reference that suit her better; that is, if this Assembly permits her to do so. I think that the Chief Minister's response on that matter was rather out of order.
The big issue, however, is the Chief Minister's contention, and the response from Mr Hird in his dissenting report, that somehow or other this report attacks public servants. If the Chief Minister is saying that the public servants who appear and give evidence before the committee can never be commented upon adversely, if that is an attack, then I do not understand the terminology. Ministers bring public servants to estimates committees. Certainly it is the Minister who is responsible and accountable at the end of the day. But Ministers frequently - in fact, some Ministers almost always - refer the questions asked of them to their public servants and the public servants respond. If the public servants in making their responses misrepresent the facts, make errors with facts, then it is appropriate for the committee to comment upon that. It is not an attack. I do not see it as an attack at all. I think that to say to any committee of the Assembly that, no matter how a public servant performs when giving evidence, you may never make an adverse comment about them is ridiculous.
I did not sit in on most of the Estimates Committee meetings this year; I left it to others. But it was pretty clear to me in reading the Estimates Committee report that there were times when public servants gave conflicting evidence. One or other of those public servants must have been wrong if they gave conflicting evidence. It is quite appropriate, in my view, for the Estimates Committee to comment on that fact, that public servants perhaps need to verify their facts before they give evidence to the committee and, if they make errors or inadvertently mislead the committee, then they should appropriately come back and inform the committee of that.
It is not reasonable to say, as Mr Hird seems to say, and I heard him on public radio this morning reiterating it over and over again, that if the Estimates Committee had a problem it should bring it to the attention of the Minister. The Minister is sitting there during the whole process and he must be able to make an assessment about the accuracy of what his public servants are saying to the Estimates Committee, because he or she knows that, at the end of the day, they are responsible. If public servants were giving inaccurate or just plain wrong information to the Estimates Committee, it is the responsibility of the Minister to correct it. If the Minister does not do so, the Estimates Committee is entitled