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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2001 Week 1 Hansard (15 February) . . Page.. 219 ..

MR KAINE (continuing):

If it is not the government's contention that the only way that the community can make its submissions is through the committees, then that is a different game altogether. So we need to be clear on what the process is, and the community needs to be clear. People in the community need to be clear that, if a committee is considering part of the budget that is of relevance to them, they can make their submissions through the committee, if they have the time to get their submissions together, submit them to the committee, then come in and discuss them. If they still have the option of taking a little longer, they can bypass the committees and go directly to the government.

If that option is still open to them, then they need to know that, because my recollection is that, not only were the committees constrained by time last year, but also community organisations sometimes felt that they were constrained by time, bearing in mind that some of them only meet once a month. Once a committee announces that it is conducting a hearing, they have a problem getting together, putting a submission together that is acceptable to all the members, and getting it in to the committee in sufficient time for the committee then to say, "Come in next week and talk to us about it." I think the problem is not the process in principle, because I think we have all tacitly agreed to that. The problem seems to lie in the mechanisms that are in place to make it work, and there does not seem to have been a great deal of thought given to that yet.

I have some concerns about the option of a committee saying that it will not consider the budget. I think we probably have an obligation to consider it. If we do not say up front that we are not going to, I do not think it ought to be left until some further point down the track when the government refers part of the budget to a committee and the committee then says, "Sorry, we do not have the time" or "We do not have the resources" or "We are not going to do it." It should be stated up front whether a committee is going to consider it, otherwise I think it is unfair to the community, whose members will be even more uncertain as to where to go if they have any comments to make.

We have to have an agreed machinery for dealing with the budget. It does not seem to be in place at the moment. We are still experimenting, still working on an ad hoc basis. I think that the motion passed by this house in connection with this matter needs to be explicit. It should not be left open for committees to decide later whether they will do it. Until that matter is resolved, I think this is almost premature.

I notice that the Chief Minister has extended the time. My original understanding was that we would have the budget about now and we would have about four weeks, including two sitting weeks of the Assembly, to deal with it. The Chief Minister has extended that, I see, by about another week, so it does take the time pressure off a bit. But there is still pressure on the committees to find the time and the resources to deal with this matter along with all the other work that they do.

Bear in mind that at the moment there is only one committee of this house charged with dealing with budgetary matters, that is, the Standing Committee on Finance and Public Administration. The others are not. One has to ask, and I think one of the committee chairs may have raised this subject, whether committees that took budgetary matters into consideration were working outside their terms of reference. I think that is a matter that needs to be resolved.

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