Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 1998 Week 10 Hansard (24 November) . . Page.. 2769 ..
MR KAINE (continuing):
to assume that the Minister supports what the public servant has said. If there are errors or discrepancies in it, then they are accountable; but the public servants themselves are accountable also for what they say to committees. They cannot go in there and say anything they please and not be criticised for it if they are inadvertently or advertently misleading the committee.
The Chief Minister may not have said anything about abolishing the Estimates Committee, but she certainly did say that, because she did not like the way this one worked, she thought it ought to be reviewed and perhaps restructured in some way. That is an interesting response. I suppose any Chief Minister at any time over the last 10 years could have disagreed with the way the estimates committees worked and taken a similar viewpoint to what the Chief Minister has this year.
Mr Moore: You loved it. You loved being questioned hard when you were Chief Minister.
MR KAINE: Absolutely. I enjoyed every minute of it. If you cannot stand the heat, stay out of the kitchen. If you do not want to be questioned by committees, do not get on the ministry. I have maintained the view right from the inception of this place - and I have not had anybody yet agree with me, strangely enough - that what the Estimates Committee just completed doing, that is, stage 2 of the process defined for the Estimates Committee this year, is not the function of an estimates committee; it is the function of the public accounts committee. I have made that point time and again, but people do not seem to be impressed with that. The Public Accounts Committee has terms of reference which require it, obligate it, to review the accounts of the Government; in other words, to review the past performance of the Government. Somehow or other we have two committees now that are supposed to do that. I am not too sure what the responsibilities of the public accounts committee now are in connection with this matter. But I do not think it is a fair response for a government which takes a bit of criticism in an estimates committee report to say, "We do not like that, so we are going to propose a review", which may end up with a completely different set of arrangements. I would have to remind the Chief Minister that, whether an estimates committee exists in the future or not and in what form it exists, is not within the prerogative of the Chief Minister or the Executive to determine. Committees of this place are established by the Assembly, not by the Executive. I would have thought that the Chief Minister would have learnt the lesson in that when she proposed her executive committee structure earlier in the year, which was very smartly withdrawn when, after some learned advice from our Clerk, she discovered that what she was proposing was, in fact, not constitutional.
The Chief Minister needs to understand that there is a constitutional difference between the powers of the Executive and the powers of the Assembly. The constitution of committees of this place is not the prerogative of the Chief Minister or the Executive. So, I think we need to get our thinking straight on some of these issues. I think that the Government is being a little bit precious in its response, to repeat Mr Hird's word. We have a couple of dissenting reports. We have one from Mr Hird - I wonder who wrote it; I very much doubt that Mr Hird did - and one from Mr Rugendyke. They are entitled to put in a dissenting report if they wish, but it remains the case that the report is predominantly a majority report and I think that the Assembly and the Government have to take note of the matters raised in it.