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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2003 Week 2 Hansard (6 March) . . Page.. 606 ..

MR SMYTH (continuing):

we have faith in the recovery and the government if the government is going to exploit the fires to conceal its own mismanagement?

The appropriation bill is an appropriate first step. I am thankful that the Treasurer will detail over time how the bottom line of the impact of the fires will be determined, and we look forward to seeing those progress reports.

MR SPEAKER: I remind members that the debate is a cognate debate in relation to the bill before the house and the motion that the Assembly take note of the paper tabled by Mr Quinlan, which was a government response to the estimates committee report.

MS DUNDAS (11.04): The ACT Democrats will be supporting this appropriation bill. We have been informed that the expenditure under this appropriation bill represents the items identified to date that are unlikely to be recoverable under our insurance policies, although part of this expenditure will be recoverable through the national disaster relief arrangements. I accept the government's assertion that they will try to recover as much as possible from the Commonwealth.

At this point, I would like to make a brief comment on how the situation relating to the bushfires has progressed through this Assembly. I have always been keen to use this chamber as a forum for constructive debate to move the community forward in a cohesive way and one in which the diverse views of the community can be put forward and debated openly, in the spirit of goodwill.

I recognise that the government has been under a lot of pressure recently. The bushfire disaster struck us hard and fast and shook everybody to the core. I recognise that some very good work has been done through the government and through the public service in the ACT, and they have worked extremely well to bring together this first appropriation bill and the first stages of the disaster relief program.

But we need to remember that this is a forum for constructive debate. I am disappointed that the government sees this Assembly as just criticising them; that is not my aim at all. I hope that, with the support for this appropriation bill today and further discussion of the inquiries, we can allay the government's fears that we are trying to bring them down. We are just trying to work together constructively as we deal with the aftermath of January 18.

I note that the Public Accounts Committee, in their report to this Assembly, has commended the government for preparing a supplementary appropriation, rather than using Treasurer's Advance. The committee also suggested that the government should have sought to cut existing programs to cover the unforeseen costs. On both accounts I cannot agree with the committee.

The Treasurer's Advance is meant to cover unforeseen expenditure, and the cost of the bushfires would seem to fall squarely into this category. I agree that it would not have been prudent to completely exhaust the Treasurer's Advance four months from the end of the financial year, but I think that at least some of this expenditure we are debating today could have been drawn from the advance.

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