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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 1999 Week 2 Hansard (9 March) . . Page.. 449 ..



creation of this. We poor church mice have very little. This discussion appears to have been a case of: "You show me yours and I will belittle it, but we will come out with our budget as we feel anyway".

MS TUCKER (4.12): Mr Speaker, there are two aspects to this debate: There are our views on what should be in the next budget and, equally, there is the issue of how a budget should be prepared. The debate we are having today is a tokenistic exercise that has arisen only because the majority of members did not support the Government's demand that we sell ACTEW. I doubt that this debate would have happened if the Assembly had voted for the sale.

This debate has been set up as a way for the Government to take the focus away from its problems of managing the finances of the ACT. The Government is attempting to put responsibility on other MLAs to come up with budget solutions because it did not get support to sell ACTEW. The Government finds itself in a rather embarrassing situation. This debate has an air of desperation about it which is actually quite alarming. It is also alarming to realise that there was no plan B in place if ACTEW could not be sold.

It is interesting to look back over the last few years. This Government has consistently stood on its credentials as a competent financial manager which could deliver the goods, not raise taxes and not borrow. However, as we all know, there has been plenty of borrowing to prop up each year's budget - "borrowing" under different names, but basically borrowing. We have also seen some taxes introduced; but, unfortunately, once again by another name. For example, the insurance levy, if it were called a tax, would be condemned straightaway as an inequitable tax.

In the last election, this Government still boasted about its economic management. What we did not hear was that this Government had only one way in mind to manage the ACT finances in the immediate future, and that was to sell off ACTEW - once again, not a sustainable solution, but one which gave the Government a few more years of looking as if it was coping, a few more years of not having to ask the hard questions about revenue and expenditure. Over the last few years, the Greens have been saying that we do need to ask those questions, that the current situation is not sustainable. Finally, now that there are no tricks left, we see that this Government is agreeing with our position and saying, "We do need to ask these hard questions".

If the Government was really serious about involving the Assembly in the formulation of the budget, it should have begun this process long ago - four years ago. The Greens have strong views about the budget process, and we have made them clear in this place and to both the Labor and the Liberal parties at the last election. We are concerned that control of the budget is treated as a key privilege of government and that most members of the Assembly are excluded from this process. The completed budget is made available to non-government members only an hour or so before its release, and certainly after it has been made available to the media.

The Assembly must either accept the budget as a whole or not accept it at all. There is no opportunity to amend it, as we do with other legislation. The Estimates Committee process is helpful in examining the detail of the budget, but its recommendations have

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