Page 4785 - Week 15 - Wednesday, 14 December 2005

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Wednesday, 14 December 2005

MR SPEAKER (Mr Berry) took the chair at 10.30 am and asked members to stand in silence and pray or reflect on their responsibilities to the people of the Australian Capital Territory.

Annual Reports (Government Agencies) Amendment Bill 2005

Mr Smyth, pursuant to notice, presented the bill and its explanatory statement.

Title read by Acting Clerk.

MR SMYTH (Brindabella—Leader of the Opposition) (10.33): I move:

That this bill be agreed to in principle.

This is a very straightforward bill, but the issue it tackles is a profound one. The bill goes to the heart of the democratic system in the ACT, that is, the right of the people, by their parliament, to review the expenditure of the executive. As it stands today, it is possible for a government agency in certain circumstances to not be required to produce an annual report.

How is that possible, you ask, Mr Speaker? All that needs to occur is for that agency to be abolished before the end of the financial year. It does not matter whether it is a large agency with a budget of hundreds of millions or a small agency with a budget of a few hundred thousand. If it is abolished before the end of the financial year it is not obliged to report. Imagine how that could be abused!

How is it that this flaw in the Annual Reports (Government Agencies) Act 2004 came to be identified? Therein lies a tale. In September this year, as I was eagerly awaiting the arrival of the traditional box-load of annual reports, one of my staff reminded me that I must not forget to look carefully at the Chief Minister’s report to see how the Office of Special Adviser, Council of Australian Governments and Intergovernmental Relations fared in the 2004-05 year.

You will, of course, remember, Mr Speaker, the Office of Special Adviser. For the benefit of seeing the Chief Minister’s reaction to this, I shall run briefly through the sorry saga that is now known as the Tonkin affair. The Office of Special Adviser was a scheme cooked up by the Chief Minister to rid himself of Mr Tonkin, the then head of the Chief Minister’s Department, with whom he did not “see eye to eye”—never mind that, in the Chief Minister’s words, “Mr Tonkin is a very senior, very experienced and extremely good public servant.”

Instead of doing what a normal person would do, such as demanding Mr Tonkin’s resignation or sack him, the Chief Minister created the world’s smallest government department, the Office of Special Adviser, to house Mr Tonkin until his contract expired. Despite being the head of the world’s smallest department, Mr Tonkin continued to draw his annual salary of some $309,000.

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