Page 2048 - Week 07 - Tuesday, 21 June 2005

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Mr Speaker, that has in fact been acknowledged in the main report, to which your party is the dominant one, with the Greens member.

The Treasurer claims that there are good reasons for the overruns; he cites exceptional situations. I am sure you will hear them again; he was anxious to mention them in estimates. He talked about the bushfire recovery, the response to the Vardon report and the Gallop report, which have resulted in unforeseen expenditures, in his words. I do not disagree; a number of those were unforeseen. But he fails to address the inherent problem we see with this government. That is that, when situations arise in a period of continuing economic growth, it is imperative that governments redouble their efforts to find savings in other outlays in order to protect the budget bottom line.

The attempt by the Treasurer to justify the overrun in expenditure reveals the flaw of incrementalism in the government’s economic management; namely treating all new expenditure as additions to existing spending with no resetting of priorities and little attempt to stay within an overall expenditure limit. Sadly, because other ministers simply do not listen to the Treasurer, the government just cannot contain expenditure.

Seeing that the government is struggling with ideas in this area, let me offer some suggestions. Areas where it could have reduced expenditure in the budget, especially when current spending is exceeding current revenue by about $356 million, include the $12 million for the international arboretum. That is a figure that I heard from the Chief Minister on radio the other morning from Japan. I do not know if he was jet-lagged, but he basically admitted on radio that it was already up to $20 million.

There is the $10 million that has been saved on the convention centre that has been squirreled away for other projects. We have this nearly $2 million that the Treasurer wants to spend out on Phillip Oval; there is the long-running saga of the human rights commission and the community inclusion board. I imagine Mr Seselja will focus on that; he did in the hearings. That is another area of considerable cost with questionable benefit. And, of course, we cannot let go through to the keeper the cost of the Chief Minister’s decision to intervene in the bushfire inquest and the attempt to avoid the prospect of adverse findings. The costs of that, in relation to the defence of the particular individuals pursuing that, have already reached, at taxpayers’ expense, more than $1.5 million.

There is rapid expansion in the cost and size of the government’s communications unit; and the decision to build the new busway service, at substantial amounts with negligible timesaving for commuters, is a very substantial component of the government’s outlay. Another one that we heard about in estimates was the $6.7 million for a real-time information system on bus arrivals, despite claims in the same evidence that there is a 99 per cent punctuality rate for the buses. It begs the question: why, in a period of deficit budgeting, do we need to make these sorts of outlays at this time?

There is little doubt that the government is not really trying to make any significant efforts to control its expenditure. The general government sector total expenses in 2005-06 will be 46 per cent higher than they were in 2000-01, yet in the same period the ACT gross state product has increased by only 32 per cent. In other words, the ACT government will be absorbing a greater proportion of total ACT output. I question whether that is what the people of Canberra want. Do they want less for themselves and

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