Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2008 Week 04 Hansard (Thursday, 10 April 2008) . . Page.. 1289 ..
ministers have been very willing to present and give evidence in detail at estimates committees. Indeed the last budget debate itself went for 16 hours, which is a very high level of scrutiny for a government’s budget. Sixteen hours of debate was permitted for the last—
MR CORBELL: I know they do not like it, Mr Speaker, but the reality is that 16 hours of debate is sufficient time to properly consider a government’s budget. We have always provided an open, accountable and extensive period for scrutiny of budgets, and that will remain the case.
The proportionality principles that apply in this place are entirely consistent with the government’s proposition that three government members be appointed to the committee rather than two and that the committee chair be held by a government member, consistent with the practice in other state parliaments and the federal parliament.
The government looks forward to a detailed and considered investigation by the Assembly’s estimates committee, and we stand ready to provide every reasonable assistance to it to ensure that the committee’s work can be completed. I commend the amendments to members.
MR SMYTH (Brindabella) (12.20): Just before the Chief Minister became Chief Minister in 2001, the huge banner that was constantly held out was “more honest, more open, more accountable”, and that a Labor government would be delighted in receiving more and stronger scrutiny. I think the process of the last three estimates committees successively chaired by the backbench of the government has shown quite serious flaws in their ability to actually run the estimates committee.
We have seen members swanning off to Brisbane and Queensland; we have seen members unable to control it; we have seen some very unfortunate outbursts, both by ministers appearing and by committee members; and we have had appalling language. For the committee chair to be held by a government member is an endorsement of the behaviour of the last three years. I think it is very, very sad for such an important committee that this may occur again given what has been seen in the last couple of years.
There has been a tradition of the minister quoting the defence that the government should have control as is the case in other jurisdictions, but it was not always like that. There was certainly a more collegiate approach to all committees, and the estimates committee in particular, since the Assembly started. As we have said, in government we would not be afraid to have the committee chaired by an opposition member. Indeed, it is almost appropriate that it be chaired by an opposition member. If your budget is so sound and if your case for that budget is so good, then you would not be afraid of that level of scrutiny.
We will be voting against the amendments. Indeed, at the 2004 election, the Chief Minister was on the front page of the Canberra Times that Saturday morning saying