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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 1999 Week 7 Hansard (30 June) . . Page.. 1825 ..

MR CORBELL (continuing):

If the Government was confident, and if the Chief Minister was confident, that her actions were legal all the way along, then why did it take so long for the Government to create this excuse that an illegal expenditure was actually an investment under section 38 of the FMA? Clearly the Government knew it had acted illegally and the Chief Minister knew she was responsible for illegal actions. Otherwise, why did she not produce the excuse that she is using now up front at the beginning?

Mr Speaker, I come back to the fundamental issue that other Labor members and I have raised in this debate. The Government and the Chief Minister cannot expend moneys without the explicit, or indeed implicit, approval of the parliament. I make the point that Ministers in this place must be held accountable for the actions of their Government. In 1956 Sir Ivor Jennings said:

Each Minister is responsible to Parliament for the conduct of his Department. The act of every Civil Servant is by convention regarded as the act of his Minister.

That is a fundamental tenet of parliamentary democracy and accountability in Westminster democracies and it is the key reason why this Assembly has no choice but to sanction the Chief Minister.

Mr Speaker, many of the other issues have been raised by my colleagues in debate. I do not intend to reiterate them further. But I make one final point. The Government says that it was unaware of the law in this regard, that it was unaware the law was being breached, and that it was a technical breach. This side of the house says that ignorance of the law is no excuse. Everyone knows that. Ignorance of the law is no excuse.

Let me put it this way, Mr Speaker: Imagine you were driving down the street outside your home, you were caught speeding and the police officer said, "Why were you speeding, sir?". If you said, "I was not aware of the speed limit", do you think that would be an excuse, when you knew what the law was; when you knew what the requirements were; when you should have been aware of the speed limit on your own street? That would not be an excuse, Mr Speaker. Neither can the Government claim now that it was unaware of the law, that it was unaware of the requirements of the Financial Management Act and that it breached them technically. Mr Speaker, I commend the motion to the Assembly.

MR MOORE (Minister for Health and Community Care) (3.52): Mr Speaker, I will begin this speech with a reply to the silly notion Mr Corbell just put up about speeding. Of course the Government knew the law. In fact, it was this Government in this parliament that passed the law that raised the standard of accountability from the Audit Act to the Financial Management Act, that required extra accountability and that required the issuing of guidelines. It was the action that Ms Carnell took in bringing that to this parliament and introducing it to the law that in fact set a new level of accountability.

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