Next page . . . . Previous page . . . . Speeches . . . . Contents . . . . Debates(HTML) . . . .

Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2002 Week 11 Hansard (26 September) . . Page.. 3365 ..

MS DUNDAS (continuing):

the audit processes for government departments and the clarification of their fiscal management responsibilities. However, I invite the Assembly to examine more closely the proposed changes to section 2 of the Financial Management Act, particularly the ability of the government to alter the details of budget papers after their respective appropriation bills have been passed by this Assembly.

This bill sets out procedures whereby the executive can alter financial targets, amend performance criteria and change the conditions of budgeted capital injections by notifiable instrument. These changes raise a number of pertinent questions in relation to the Assembly's role in keeping the government accountable in the preparation and implementation of budgets of the territory government.

Obviously, the primary decision-making responsibility for budget preparation does lie with the government of the day, as fiscal decisions need to be made in the overarching context of total government fiscal activity, as well as the clear fact that a meaningful budget can only be constructed with the long-suffering efforts of the ACT public service. However, it is less certain that decisions on the physical presentation and reporting of the budget should be the sole province of a government in power. The temptation is at hand for governments to present information in forms that make it difficult to discover inconsistencies or to put the best positive spin on the financial outcomes.

Mr Speaker, in the estimates hearings this year, we had a number of problems with the presentation of the 2002-03 budget-not only the wholesale rewriting of large sections which were unavailable until after the estimates hearings had commenced, but also repeated concerns that many performance criteria were unexplained, of little value or, indeed, completely meaningless.

I also note that, despite the requirement of the Financial Management Act to provide budget papers that facilitate comparison with the previous financial year, that did not actually occur in many cases, and that the government has already unilaterally decided to discontinue some performance indicators which seemed to be quite useful.

By the same token, I acknowledge that the motive for these changes is to enable financial targets and performance outcomes to be updated throughout the year in response to a changing fiscal environment, which, in itself, is not necessarily a bad idea. Certainly, the proposed legislation is in line with current practice, in that the legislature is not directly involved in determining reporting practices for the budget, and remains consistent with these traditions in formalising the ability of the government to pursue an alternative fiscal program in response to emerging events.

However, the effect of the legislation actually strengthens government control over the framing and presentation of the budget papers. The required justification for a change in these measures is extremely weak and there is potential for these laws to be used for the advantage of the government. I also note that, while this legislation requires the disclosure of any alterations to the information presented in the budget papers, there remains no mechanism for overturning an unwarranted change.

I believe that this Assembly needs to place closer scrutiny on the development and continuity of performance criteria used in the budget. Perhaps this Assembly needs to look more closely at its expectations of the form in which budgets should be presented.

Next page . . . . Previous page . . . . Speeches . . . . Contents . . . . Debates(HTML) . . . .