Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2008 Week 04 Hansard (Thursday, 10 April 2008) . . Page.. 1290 ..
there was nothing to fear from majority government. Well, if there is nothing to fear from majority government, let the opposition run the estimates committee, as has been the tradition in this place for the majority of the time of the life of the Assembly. What that says is the government is willing to be held accountable; the government is not afraid of in-depth scrutiny; and the government can answer the questions that should be thrown its way instead of gagging the debate, as has been done, and, indeed, directing the debate away from crucial issues at crucial points in time.
We have seen bad behaviour; we have seen the direction; and we have seen the gagging of the budget debate. If you want that honest, more open, more accountable process, then the minister should withdraw these amendments. I suspect he will not. That, again, is an indication of the arrogance and out-of-touch nature of the Stanhope Labor government.
MRS DUNNE (Ginninderra) (12.23): It is sad that one has to come in here again and make points again in relation to these amendments and to oppose them, as we expected that we would have to, yet again. This is a sad indictment of the government. The manager of government business says, “We are doing it this way because we can.” He said the precedent is in other parliaments that the government gets to chair the estimates committee. Governments who have majorities and who do not have standing orders that prevent them from doing so get to do this. The tradition in this place for most of the 20 years of ACT self-government has been that an opposition member or, very occasionally, a crossbench member chairs the estimates process.
As Mr Mulcahy would know, although I gather he has changed his view somewhat given his changed circumstances, if you look around the world and you look at Westminster parliaments there are plenty of others where tasks of chairing things like estimates committee are given to members outside of the government, because the parliament actually believes it is the right thing to do. In the past I have spoken of the precedents of the national parliament in Canada, where the standing orders actually prescribe that the equivalent of the public accounts committee and the review of budget expenditure, for example, are committees which are specifically set to be within the purview of the opposition.
This opposition has—and I will reinforce this—in the past passed a motion that it is our intention, whether in government or out of government, that, irrespective of who is in government, the purview of the estimates committee should be the nominee of the Leader of the Opposition. Of course, after October this year we will have the opportunity to put our intention and our policy into practice. This has been our long-standing position. It was always our position when we were in government, and it has been formalised. This must be about the fourth or fifth time that I have brought this to the direct attention of the Assembly.
We believe, irrespective of who is in government, that this should be a matter where there is absolute and unfettered scrutiny of the government’s budget by the Assembly. The best way to ensure that is to ensure that the chairmanship is not the captive of the government. The job of the chairman of the estimates committee is to, within the forms of the standing orders, allow an appropriate level of investigation and not to divert things off and run for cover and run interference when ministers are feeling discomforted. That is why we cannot support this motion.