Page 4892 - Week 15 - Thursday, 15 December 2005

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On a related matter, the opposition has to ask large numbers of questions on notice simply because there are anomalies. If you look at my question on notice No 827 lodged yesterday, it lists a range of serious concerns about millions of dollars worth of assets going missing and concerns about large differences between amended budget figures and actuals. There are a large number of doubtful debts. There is a significant amount of payables overdue for 60 days or more. There are concerns regarding cash flow and investment activities. All these things need to be closely investigated. The minister does not seem to be able to offer any decent answers when asked about these things, either through questions on notice, questions without notice or FOIs.

Recently I raised concerns about the decision of the ESA to release, almost on the day of annual report hearings, a newly revised annual report and how the decision not to provide that report to members for at least a week after that hearing was questionable. The ACT government’s budget is under enormous pressure following revelations that cabinet has been advised the budget is “at risk”. It is evident that the ESA has a lot to answer for in regard to the management of its budget.

In the interests of open, honest, accountable and transparent management of the ESA’s $70 million budget, we need to establish some idea of what has really happened in the ESA since its inception. This is a large organisation and it is spending a lot of money. There are many questions about where that money is going. This Assembly needs to dig into these issues and come up with some answers. It seems that no matter how much money is being thrown at this government agency for the equipment they need, the premises they require, the communication systems they have to have or the vehicles and equipment, the service they provide does not seem to improve. There have been some remarkable advances, but there is nothing consistent here.

The ESA was meant to see a reduction in the bureaucracy and nepotism clearly entrenched in the old Emergency Services Bureau identified by the McLeod inquiry following the January 2003 bushfire disaster. They were to be abolished with the establishment of the ESA. They would go west, we were told; we would not see them for dust. Everything was going to be streamlined, things were going to be more accountable, things were going to be more responsive, our men and women were going to be better supported in the field, we were told. Alas, this removal of bureaucracy does not seem to have happened, with the ESA seeming to have more of a bureaucratic structure and more questions about its administration, resourcing, procurement of services and budgetary funding than the old ESB ever had.

The ACT’s preparation for potential disasters under the ESA also raises a number of questions. Let us look at the ACT’s supposed preparation for a terrorist attack. In question time earlier this year, the Chief Minister said:

… the ACT has the most advanced evacuation procedures and processes in place of any jurisdiction in Australia, bar none.

He then said:

I commend the Emergency Services Authority and Commissioner Dunn for the state of preparedness and preparation that we have within the territory in relation to these issues.

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