Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 1999 Week 9 Hansard (31 August) . . Page.. 2585 ..
MR HUMPHRIES (continuing):
The final matter I want to touch on in this debate is the process that we are using to deal with an unexpected appropriation in the course of a financial year. The Government decided to bring forward Appropriation Bill (No. 2) 1999-2000 in order to be able to engineer a degree of transparency and accountability which it believes is necessary to be able to provide scrutiny of what we are doing and to be able to make sure that there is no question of us using money which the Assembly has not appropriated.
It is worth reflecting on what the Assembly had to say when the same exercise was used three years ago, in April 1996, when a second appropriation was put forward for the funding of the ACT health system when there was a budget blow-out. At that stage the Chief Minister and Treasurer of the day, Mrs Carnell, made it clear when she said:
... we are not prepared to adopt the practice that has been used in previous years of making artificial cash management arrangements to conceal what is a significant overrun in the health and community care budget. This Government believes that a second appropriation by the Assembly is a more open and transparent mechanism for budget adjustment.
Mr Berry: Why did you not do it this year with the health budget?
MR HUMPHRIES: We did not need to, to answer the interjection, because we did not have that problem. The curious thing is what the response of the Opposition of the day to that proposal was. Given what they are saying now, you would imagine they would be gung-ho, saying, "Yes, yes, extra accountability. You put the things on the table. We want to see the details about this proposal".
Mr Stanhope: That is what we asked for.
MR HUMPHRIES: No, it was not what you asked for at the time, Mr Stanhope. What you asked for was very different. In fact, Mr Whitecross, then Leader of the Opposition, on 21 May 1996 called on the Chief Minister to withdraw the Bill. I quote:
The second Appropriation Bill is unnecessary. The Bill is unnecessary because Mrs Carnell herself says that she does not need it. She does not need the further funds to supplement her budget, which this Bill provides for ... This Appropriation Bill is unnecessary because section 49 of the Audit Act invests the Government with the ability to transfer between appropriations to accommodate variances in budget priorities or, in this case, a disappointing budget blow-out.
Section 49 of the Audit Act has been repealed, but it has equivalent provisions in the new Financial Management Act. In other words, it is possible to cope with unexpected changes in the budget outlook by virtue of using provisions in the Financial Management Act to take money from elsewhere. In 1996 the Opposition told us that we must use these provisions. They said, "You do not need another appropriation Bill.