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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 1999 Week 13 Hansard (9 December) . . Page.. 4066 ..

MR QUINLAN (11.01): I wish I could believe that this is a genuine exercise in the pursuit of open government. I realise that it was part of the Pettit report, but I do note that, when the Pettit report was reviewed by our select committee on governance, Mr Stanhope, a staunch advocate of the Westminster system, did not concur with this element, and rightly so.

We are talking here, I guess, about a committee trying to create a budget. We all know the jokes about committees. The camel is a horse designed by a committee. The Westminster system is a process whereby a government prepares a budget and non-government members or parties play, and play effectively within a Westminster system, the role of the devil's advocate. I think that process provides the best results. The budget debate allows the public to evaluate how well they are represented. The budget being the cornerstone of how the government will operate, each of the parties gets to become involved in the budget debate, in open forum, and put their views on how, generally, the Territory should be governed as opposed to having only the single issues that arise from time to time on which to make their evaluation.

I have no doubt that Professor Pettit was genuine in his hope for a more collegiate style of government but I think he was a little naive. The Westminster system is based on constructive tension, even if it might involve, from time to time, exposing what are seen as negative observations and possibly even political point-scoring.

This is the second attempt, the second year in a row, where the Government has set out to employ a mechanism which essentially will forestall ex-post debate on the annual budget. The Government will stand in this place and say, "The committee has had a chance to look at these things. Its members should have made their input in the first place. Therefore, its right to object to elements of the budget and to hold them up to criticism in this public forum will be inhibited". A year ago we had the put up or shut up debate. Now we have the second attempt, a draft budget which is to be brought down in the middle of the summer break.

I wonder why this Government is pushing for this without any other reforms. This Government has all the accoutrements of a government within the Westminster system. It has ministries and they have bigger offices. Far greater resources are provided to Ministers, whereas the committees that are supposedly going to evaluate this budget in a relatively short time are relatively resource strapped.

We heard the snide comment of Mr Smyth, snidely Smyth. Commenting on the work of the committees, he said it has been a consistent theme in this place that committees have asked for extensions of time. As far as I have observed, nearly all the members of this place are working very, very hard, and, if there is a succession of requests for extensions of time, that might indicate something other than they are not doing their work. It might indicate, considering the small numbers that we have here and the pressures that are on committees, that there is a hefty workload.

To ask committees to do the full job on the budget within this relatively short timeframe is, I think, just a rather cynical political exercise. The Government is seeking to set up an absurdly uneven match in respect of the political balance that should be created within the place, saying that committees should know all about the budget and virtually

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