Page 1328 - Week 04 - Thursday, 10 April 2008

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So the crossbenchers pulled out, the government moved their amendments but did not allow us to move our amendments. If the crossbench did not want a spot on the estimates committee, we certainly would have been happy to have made the numbers three-three, which would have been a better outcome. But, as it is, the crossbench combining with the government will now see the government have three out of five members on the estimates committee.

It is worth considering what the estimates process is about. The estimates process is about scrutiny of the budget. There are two results from what we have seen this afternoon. One is that the budget will not be scrutinised as closely as it should be, because the government will be able to do what it likes on this committee. It will not only have the chair; it will also have a clear majority on the committee. So every resolution that goes through the estimates committee, every resolution in the report, will be one that the government approves of. It will be handed down by the ministers to the backbench and that is what will be reflected in the final committee report. That is a very disappointing outcome.

The other outcome of today is that we have seen that the crossbench have no interest in being a genuine part of the scrutiny process of the budget. They are going to have to tell their constituents why they do not think it is worth being part of this scrutiny process. With the most important scrutiny process of the year, Mr Mulcahy and Dr Foskey have decided that they could not be stuffed to be a part of it. They would prefer to do other things rather than their job of keeping the government accountable.

As we approach the next election and we see people faced with a choice, we will be hearing the arguments from the crossbenchers as to why there should be a bigger crossbench representation. The biggest argument against that has come today, when we see that it is only the opposition that are prepared to take it to the government. We are the alternative government; we are the ones who will keep this government accountable. The crossbench have demonstrated that they have no interest in doing so.

Let it be known to the electors as we approach the election that this is a crossbench that are not interested in taking it to the government; they are not capable, interested or enthusiastic enough to do the work of opposition and the crossbench, which is to keep the government accountable. That is the job of this committee. That is why in my motion we allocated a spot to the crossbench. We believe they should be represented. But, given that they have decided they do not want to be, we believe that it would be reasonable—and the government should reconsider this—for the opposition to take that extra spot.

It would be the same split. The government would still have three members and they would still have the committee chair and be able to block adverse votes, but it would mean that they would not have the complete domination of the committee which they are going to have. It must be said that the only reason they are going to have complete domination of this committee is that the crossbench have allowed them to. The crossbench, Mr Mulcahy and Dr Foskey, had the opportunity to be on this committee, and both of them have declined.

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