Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2008 Week 02 Hansard (Tuesday, 4 March 2008) . . Page.. 366 ..
I hear what Ms MacDonald says—that there might be a better way to go about it. Obviously, nothing should be locked in stone. But I would be very worried if we ever went down the road of simply scrapping that and relying on questions on notice or the estimates process. The estimates process is somewhat frenetic; the process of asking questions on notice allows one, if one is in government, to prepare a very well considered, drafted response that may not provide an opportunity for a subsequent question in the manner in which you could deal with it in annual report hearings. Often it is the nature of the questioning and the way in which a response comes that immediately leads into another series of questions. It is an important tool for non-government members, in particular, in this place.
Mrs Burke makes the point that with a unicameral legislature, as we have here, issues of accountability should become more significant. We do not have a senate or a legislative council to have further review of legislation or ministerial accountability. I think that the process as it is with estimates and annual reports is tight. Keep in mind that there is only a very limited amount of time made available for each minister to appear. If a minister chooses to be somewhat verbose—which one or two people in this place have a reputation for being—then the number of questions asked is massively reduced.
For that reason, I think that it is in the interests of the democratic process and in the interests of transparency and accountability that we continue to preserve the process of annual report hearings until or unless somebody can come up with a better system for extracting information and ensuring that information on the management of government agencies and departments in this territory is available to members. I do not see a case being made out for something better.
I do not accept that the written processes are better. I did note that there has been a real attempt to try and change the way in which the questions on notice are handled through some of these hearings. I know that some of my former colleagues opposite had some unease on this. With this sort of thing, we have to be very careful that, in the interests of making life easier for people, not doing as much work, we do not get rid of measures of accountability. That should be watched very, very carefully.
I urge you, Mr Speaker, and the Clerk to closely scrutinise anything coming forward from the secretariat that might in any way impinge on the capacity of members to scrutinise the processes of the Assembly. I have noticed several items that have troubled me. This suggestion, which came out of the secretariat originally—about what is the point of having annual report hearings—worried me then and it would worry me if this gathered any momentum. As it is, particularly with a majority government, there is, in effect, less accountability, no matter what the Chief Minister might contend. That is a fact of life. When you have a majority, you know that basically you cannot be defeated. So it becomes extremely important to preserve and protect the other processes and forms of the house. I conclude with those observations.
Ms MacDONALD (Brindabella) (10.43), in reply: I appreciate the comments that Mrs Burke and Mr Mulcahy have made. It is, of course, my own opinion. Outside the chamber I have been known to mutter about the fact that we do annual reports on a