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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 1999 Week 7 Hansard (30 June) . . Page.. 1854 ..

MR HUMPHRIES (continuing):

provide any evidence that the Chief Minister did deliberately break the law. Indeed, no section of the law has been quoted that suggests that she deliberately broke the law. For example, I ask members to look at section 6 of the Financial Management Act. It states:

No payment of public money shall be made otherwise than in accordance with an appropriation.

It talks about the payment of public money. Who pays public moneys in the Territory? Not Ministers. We do not have the capacity to sign cheques in this place to pay public moneys. In fact, we very rarely authorise in any sense the payment of public money by some kind of ministerial document. Occasionally we do, but it is not actually very common, particularly for certain Ministers. The payment of public money almost invariably occurs as an act of a public servant, generally pursuant to an appropriation, whether it is an Appropriation Act or an appropriation of the kinds that are found in the Financial Management Act. Precisely what section of the legislation is it alleged the Chief Minister breached if she deliberately set out to break the law? Presumably not section 6, because the Chief Minister does not actually act to pay public money on most occasions - in fact, on any occasion that I can conceive of at this stage.

If we exclude those things which the Government and the Opposition agree about - that is, we agree about the need for accountability, we agree that public spending must be authorised and we agree that the legislation was breached in respect of this matter - and if we have no evidence for those things that we do not agree about, such as deliberate breaking of the law and the Chief Minister's role in that, then the essential point of difference between the Government and the Opposition in tonight's debate is whether or not the consequences of the Government breaching the law should be the dismissal or removal of the Minister from office, or the Government for that matter. If the law has been broken, inadvertently or otherwise, should the Government, should the Minister, pay the ultimate price and leave office?

The Government says that the notion of ministerial responsibility requires us to come back to this place and explain what has happened in the law being breached, to remedy any damage which has been done and to apologise to the house for any breach of the law. It has done all those things. The Opposition says, however, that we should go beyond that; that the Government, or at least the Minister, should resign. It says, "It does not matter that it was inadvertent. It does not matter that you did not mean to break the law". Mr Quinlan, I think, told us about the truck driver who drove off the road but had good intent.

Mr Quinlan: No, wrong bloke.

MR HUMPHRIES: Mr Stanhope, or whoever it was. He said, "Your intention is irrelevant. If you break the law, you go". Mr Speaker, that is a very high standard which the Opposition is setting out for us tonight in this place. It is a standard which says that if the Government breaks the law, even if its servants break the law and the Minister has no personal role in that, the Minister must resign. I think that is a stupid exposition of the standard which applies under ministerial responsibility. But let us take it seriously for a moment and explore just what it means.

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