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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2001 Week 3 Hansard (8 March) . . Page.. 863 ..

Budget surpluses

MR QUINLAN: My question to the Chief Minister relates to recorded operating surpluses over time. Yesterday you responded to my question on misinformation-that $344 million thing as to the state of the ACT economy that you inherited. While attributing economic improvement to your hard decisions, particularly in relation to staff, you stated, and I quote from the draft Hansard:

... you get a result in terms of payroll of $150 million. If we had not shed those jobs we would not have the surplus we have today.

Would it surprise you to discover that the spurious backcast figures for the year 1995-96 show wages and salaries at $759 million, while your forward estimates for 2000-2001 show wages and salaries at $762 million? Even with allowance for indexation, these figures do not reconcile with the claim of $150 million, particularly as you have shed a function or two such as CityScape, which has been outsourced, the survey area, and BEPCON being cut back. Could it be that while we were being so harsh as to criticise you for making staff redundant in important areas-and I recall talking about education a year or so ago, and you did bleat yesterday about our attacks on you-you were not so responsible in other areas such as, maybe, ministerial support and PR staffing? How does this reconcile with your claim that staff cuts and staff management brought the budget into surplus?

MR HUMPHRIES: Mr Speaker, I did not claim that staff cuts or staff reductions produced the result that we had. A number of things contributed to that, including containment of the ACT government's expenditure in a number of areas. It is obvious that we have not reduced our expenditure across the board. We as a government have increased our expenditure steadily-and I think this has been true of all governments in the ACT for each of the years since self-government. It remains the case that we will continue no doubt to do that as we address, with each passing year, a larger population and a greater range of needs in the community. As initiatives like the ones that are on the table at the moment from the draft budget come on stream, the employment of more people will be required.

The question is one of restraint in wages and in functions that governments deliver and the way in which they deliver those services. You need to make sure that as functions grow, as they inevitably do, you are able to do other functions of government in a more cost-effective and efficient way. We are very heavily focused on doing that over the course of this government-and that, of course, is a matter to which Mr Quinlan and others in this place have drawn attention on many occasions in the past-and in some cases reducing the size of the workforce dealing with a particular function in order to be able to get a better result for the territory.

A good example is the matter we discussed yesterday of forestry workers. It gives us no joy to have to reduce the number of people working in our ACT forests. But you have to concede, surely, that as you reduce the number of people in that position, as you shed those jobs, you get an improvement in the bottom line, particularly if you continue the activity in some way and you use other means to deliver it.

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