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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 1998 Week 10 Hansard (24 November) . . Page.. 2810 ..

MR STEFANIAK (continuing):

I think one of the most important roles the Estimates Committee can play is to closely scrutinise how the Government spends its money and identify whether efficiencies and savings can be made in certain areas of government expenditure. I do not think that enough attention has been paid to that in recent years.

MR BERRY (4.00), in reply: I said earlier in my contribution to the Assembly debate in relation to this matter that you can always tell when you are getting close to the mark by the grizzles from the other side. They were loud and clear to us on this side of the chamber. In a Bjelke-Petersenish response, the Chief Minister started screeching that there has to be a review of the Estimates Committee process. This is because the Chief Minister feels burnt by the process. Eighteen of the 19 recommendations were endorsed by all members of the committee. It was not as if they were endorsed lightly. Nobody was hypnotised or otherwise excluded from the decision-making process. I think it is fair enough. The Government ought to just cop it and go away and prepare its response.

I think the Chief Minister's response has been rather pathetic. If you read her press release at lunchtime, you would think I was a one-person committee. I would like to be able to take the credit all by myself - that would be fine - but I am unable to because some of my colleagues would wish to share in the limelight as well. Many of the questions raised were raised by my colleagues, not necessarily by me.

Nevertheless, personalities aside, I am quite happy to have been involved in the process. The Estimates Committee, since they began in this place, have always had as their modus operandi to put the pressure on individual governments. That is their role. That is the role of scrutiny. That is why people like Joh Bjelke-Petersen did not like it. That is why they never let it happen in Queensland and we ended up with the Fitzgerald inquiry because of absolute power and the absence of scrutiny.

Bleating from the government benches about the issue is rather expected when there is some criticism, mild or harsh, but we have in this place a scrutiny process which has been developed around the minority government position which has existed since self-government, and it is a strong one. There were efforts at the beginning of this Assembly to water down the scrutiny process. Regrettably, the public accounts committee has been locked away with another portfolio committee. I think that was a negative step. I think I have been proven to be correct in respect of that. The scrutiny of Bills committee has been locked away with the legal affairs committee. These other committees are policy committees that are busy doing other things. I think it is fair to say that to lock away scrutiny committees in a mixed policy and scrutiny environment is not healthy if we are to have a proper scrutiny process. The howls of the Chief Minister about this report and earlier reports have to be taken in context. Yes, there were some strong criticisms of government processes in both of these reports, and in my view they stand. I will not be frightened off because the Government is upset by the process which has given rise to the recommendations.

Mr Speaker, I turn to comments of individual Ministers. Mr Humphries made a point about public servants being pressed too far in the process of scrutiny. If Mr Humphries was not tough enough or smart enough to be able to elicit an answer in relation to a matter, that is his problem. So far as I am concerned, members are entitled to press

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