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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2002 Week 9 Hansard (20 August) . . Page.. 2416 ..

MR HARGREAVES (continuing):

I think this report does, in the spirit of a fair amount of goodwill, offer a number of suggestions to the government which it could pick up. There are certainly some suggestions in there which I doubt the government would pick up, but there is nothing different in that from previous years.

As the chairman said, there were 65 recommendations. It took a long time and we took out a lot of teeth in the process. However, there are many substantial recommendations in this report and I commend the report to the Assembly.

MS DUNDAS (11.26): Firstly I would like to say that I found this estimates process mostly open, helpful and enjoyable. I extend my thanks to all those involved-my fellow committee members, Secretariat support staff, the ministers and all the departmental officers who appeared and assisted throughout the long but entirely necessary process.

I am also pleased to note that we have tabled one report with no dissent-as the committee worked very hard to reach consensus on a wide range of issues. This, Mr Speaker, was my first time on a select committee on estimates, looking at a full budget. I am firmly of the view that the government could have managed the budget process far better.

Poor management and departmental restructures in the areas of disability, housing and community services led to enormous confusion and a loss of transparency. As the report notes, the committee was severely hampered in its attempts to question the ministers and departmental officials about changes to spending and outputs, because updated budget papers were not available until the middle of the estimates hearings.

I was particularly unhappy to see that a large number of performance measures were discontinued or replaced, and that no overlapping information on the measures was provided, for either the last financial year or this financial year. In effect, in many program areas the committee was unable to establish whether there had been substantial cuts or increases to existing programs.

Many departmental officials, due to the change in the budget papers, came to the hearings under-prepared. It was difficult to get information from them, as they were reading from a different set of budget papers. As has been mentioned, I was also concerned that, increasingly, output measures relate to the satisfaction of the minister with the work of the department. The proliferation of such measures indicates to me that the government is losing sight of Westminster principles.

Whilst in opposition, the Chief Minister wholeheartedly supported these principles. I do not want to see him reneging on what is a good commitment to keep. The budget process is intended to keep the executive accountable to this Assembly and, through it, the ACT community. These types of measures appear to be more about keeping public servants accountable to the executive.

The minister has great latitude to require departmental officials to report on many aspects of departmental business. Ministers do not need the budget process to keep departments accountable, but the Assembly does. In many areas, the output measures used failed to provide the necessary accountability.

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