Page 1514 - Week 05 - Thursday, 7 April 2005

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

(4) if the Assembly is not sitting when the Committee has completed its inquiry the Committee may send its report to the Speaker or, in the absence of the Speaker, to the Deputy Speaker, who is authorised to give directions for its printing, publishing and circulation; and

(5) the foregoing provisions of this resolution so far as they are inconsistent with the standing orders, have effect notwithstanding anything contained in the standing orders.

Mr Speaker, much has been said in relation to the estimates committee this year. Indeed, the estimates committee has far more importance in the ACT than, it might be argued, in most other parliaments. There are two reasons for this situation prevailing. First of all, we do not have an upper house or a house of review in the Australian Capital Territory to make an independent assessment of legislation. We also do not have anyone equivalent really to a governor or the Governor-General in Executive Council to review or question legislation before it is signed into law.

It is interesting, on that second point, that lots of people in the political system assume that the Executive Council is a rubber stamp, but my experience in other situations is that, in fact, matters are still reviewed and are questioned even at that level. Obviously with the Chief Minister effectively signing legislation into law, he is assuming that role as both Chief Minister and governor. Some would argue that this is a flaw in the political structure of the ACT and that it does not have those further checks. So the estimates committee does play an important role.

The strength and independence of the committees—and I emphasise “the independence of the committees”—is especially significant under the circumstances that now exist in the ACT of majority government. I believe that it is a special responsibility of the Assembly to make sure that the estimates process is effective and transparent in reviewing legislation.

It is very important that the executive—that is, ministers—do not interfere with committees so that they can get on with their job, scrutinise matters, hear evidence without fear or favour and then report diligently back to this Assembly. The separation of powers, in my view, is fundamental to the strength of democracy. Whilst I am one of the newer members here, I have already found, through the work on the public accounts committee in relation to annual reports, that this process can be most illuminating.

I think it is very important to ensure that the interests of the citizens at large are addressed and that the appropriate questions are raised through those hearings. At times, the Chief Minister has emphasised the importance of the separation of powers, and I would hope that he would act accordingly and ensure the strength, quality and effectiveness of committees.

In practical terms, I believe leadership should be provided by the government ensuring the composition of the estimates committee as two members of the government, two members of the Liberal opposition and one from the crossbench. I imagine, in light of the facts that have been presented and disclosed today, that that is the outcome that will likely be achieved.

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