Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 1999 Week 5 Hansard (6 May) . . Page.. 1573 ..
MS TUCKER (continuing):
There is also the issue of what constitutes an investment of public money, which I also raised three years ago. It is interesting to look at the Hansard, particularly in terms of Mr Moore's position on that. Section 38 of the Act allows the Treasurer to invest money
in any prescribed investment. But "prescribed" in this instance means the financial management guidelines issued by the Treasurer. Basically, the Treasurer can invest public money wherever she likes, regardless of how risky that may be. We did see that as a fundamental accountability mechanism. Mr Moore joined the Greens at that time in supporting that as a fundamental accountability measure. That has become an absurdity in the last budget, where loans given out by the Central Finance Unit to other agencies are listed as investments, whereas they are really liabilities that must be borne by these agencies. We therefore have the crazy situation where money given to the Department of Urban Services to fund redundancies is listed as an investment. An investment in what?
There is also the issue initiated by the passing of this Act of whether the reduction of all government activity into a series of outputs has actually improved service delivery, efficiency and accountability, or whether it has introduced rigidity and an overemphasis on the bottom line financial cost. I am aware that each year the Estimates Committee makes various comments about the presentation of the budget, but that is really just tinkering around the edges. The Assembly needs to undertake a more thorough analysis of whether the financial management system adopted in 1996 is really meeting the needs of the Assembly to ensure that taxpayers' money is spent fairly, efficiently and with proper authority.
A further issue that I have raised in the terms of reference is the question of whether environmental and social accounts can be incorporated into the financial management framework. Members would be aware that there are many assets of the ACT, such as its air, water and bushland, which cannot be reduced to monetary values but which nevertheless are affected by government activity and which should be accounted for in some way in the balance sheet of the ACT. I also raised this issue as an amendment three years ago, but at the time other members did not want to lock it into the legislation before more development work had been done on how it could be implemented. Given that three years have passed since then and there has been considerable work done at the national level and overseas on environmental accounting, it is timely to reconsider this issue.
To mention the other parts of my motion, the terms of reference are basically a revised version of the statutory review I proposed when the legislation was first passed. These relate to the fact that there are differences between the efficiency, effectiveness and economy of an action. In terms of financial management, we need to look at issues such as whether the controls on expenditure in the Act are too loose or too tight. Is there too much or too little flexibility in how government can redirect funds to areas of emerging need? Are the resources currently put by public servants into the development of the ACT budget appropriate to achieving the objectives of the Act and the policy objectives of the Government?
There is also the need to examine how the Act impacts on the ability of the non-Executive members of the Assembly to scrutinise the financial management of the Government. We are all aware of how complex the budget papers are. While the Government makes much of how transparent the accounts are, there is still the potential