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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 1999 Week 4 Hansard (22 April) . . Page.. 1134 ..

MR KAINE (continuing):

I am sure that everybody will be aware that I have long held the view that the consideration of annual reports should be separated from the consideration of the budget. They are two clearly separate matters and it has been my view for many years that we should separate them. With the budget this year being brought forward, if the Estimates Committee were to reconvene to look at the annual reports, it would be almost six months later that the Estimates Committee reconvened to look at matters which, in my view, are properly not a matter of substance for the Estimates Committee anyway. I think this is a good year to examine this matter and for the Assembly to determine whether it wishes to continue to have the Estimates Committee examine the estimates in the budget, the Appropriation Bill and the annual reports or whether it is an appropriate time to separate them. So, Mr Speaker, I have moved the amendments circulated in my name.

The intent is that this year the Estimates Committee, as a result of these amendments, would look only at the Appropriation Bill and the documents associated with that. I foreshadow that, if the Assembly supports these amendments today, I will at a later time move another motion that places the responsibility for examining annual reports on the appropriate portfolio standing committee. I think that is a far more appropriate apportionment of responsibility. The examination of the Appropriation Bill and its associated documents would not be clouded, would not be obscured, would not be obfuscated, if you like, by extraneous material that has to do, not with the budget that we are debating, but what has happened in the preceding year. I think they are two entirely different things. It is appropriate this year in my belief, as I said, to separate them. That is the intent of my motion. I ask members of the Assembly to seriously consider the ramifications of my amendments and support them.

MR HUMPHRIES (Attorney-General, Minister for Justice and Community Safety and Minister Assisting the Treasurer) (11.04): Mr Speaker, the Government will be happy to support the amendments Mr Kaine has moved. In fact, the amendments leave open the question of how the Assembly will deal with the annual reports brought down in September or October, but the indication that Mr Kaine has given of what he intends to do with them at that stage is quite supportable. The fact is that over the last year, with the establishment of portfolio committees, a body of expertise has built up in each of those committees on the operation of the particular portfolios that they cover. It seems to me quite strange that you can have an Estimates Committee reviewing, for example, the annual report of the Department of Justice and Community Safety but not have any members of the portfolio committee on the committee as it is examining that report. They might sit in but they would not be there to debate it when the report is finalised.

This proposal allows that expertise built up in individual committees to be applied to the annual reports. It is likely to result in a higher level of scrutiny of government Ministers who come before those committees because they will have to answer questions from people who have been working in that portfolio area for almost two years by the time this set of reports reaches them.

Mr Speaker, it makes some sense from the point of view of scrutiny and it allows the element of confusion which has crept into the estimates process to be eliminated. There is no doubt that in the last year at least, and probably before that, there has been a tendency to have the estimates function carried out in part by that report review process and for part of the report questioning exercise to go on during the estimates process.

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