Page 1320 - Week 04 - Thursday, 10 April 2008

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parliament we should be able to act and operate differently, working on the conventions of the past 15, 16, 17 and 18 years in this place. But that has now gone out the window. The government will get this through on the numbers, and I think that is quite a disappointing reflection on this government. They do not really want the accountability and the openness and the scrutiny. They do not really want that.

As has already been said by one of my colleagues, if the budget is going to be so wonderful, then, why oh why not let an opposition member—I thought was going to be a crossbench member—be the chair? Why not be held accountable to that open scrutiny if you are not afraid of having things revealed that you do not want to be revealed? So it is a disappointing day, yet again, but I stand by my amendment and I ask the government to reconsider. It is not too late. I propose that the opposition assume the chair of the select committee on estimates.

MR SESELJA (Molonglo––Leader of the Opposition) (4.09): I will be supporting Mrs Burke’s amendment. It is unfortunate that we are again having a debate where the government looks to dominate this committee once more.

This government did come in on a promise to be open, transparent and accountable. We have seen over the last 6½ years that that has become less and less the case, and no more so now than when we see them stacking the estimates committee again. Instead of going for a reasonable spread, they are determined to go for three members and to hold the chair.

Mrs Burke’s amendment is really our coming some of the way and saying that it would be better if we had two opposition, two government and one crossbench. It appears we are not even going to get one crossbench, which is interesting to say the least, given the attitude of the crossbench to holding the government accountable. On the most important aspect of what the government does, the delivery of its budget, the scrutiny of its budget, we have a crossbench apparently that is not interested in actually asking them questions. We have a crossbench that seems more intent on criticising the opposition than criticising the government. I am sure that their constituents would take great note of that.

But moving on from that, what this is about is actually coming some of the way and saying that, if you are going to stack it, the chair of these committees is actually important. It actually is important in accountability. A chair that is inherently friendly to the government is more likely to direct traffic in a way that is friendly to ministers. And we have seen that. We have seen that with some of the outrageous, lengthy answers from certain ministers. We have seen it with some of the absolutely outrageous statements of certain ministers, particularly Mr Hargreaves. Having a chair that is not there to do the government’s bidding would actually help avoid that scenario.

We think, with Mrs Burke’s amendment, this would not be the ideal scenario but is our coming some of the way and we would ask the government to come some of the way and say, “Let us actually try to get a little bit of balance in this committee. Let us not have a committee that is simply going to do as it is told by the ministry. We want a committee that genuinely looks to scrutinise this budget.”

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