Page 2091 - Week 06 - Thursday, 26 June 2008
contested, it was closely questioned and we ended up with the unprecedented experience of having to recall members and officials because the officials eventually fessed up to the fact that they had misled the estimates committee.
The majority members of the committee obviously thought that this would be too painful and too embarrassing for their government. They just folded and said: “No, no, no. We cannot possibly.” So we have got a few footnote cross-references, and that is the amount of coordination that we have on this very important issue. I will come back to the principal issue of the power station later.
It struck me on a number of occasions that the behaviour of the Labor members on the committee was less than helpful, and it was not even helpful to their cause. A number of times Mr Smyth or I would say, “We have this which we would like to bring to the table and we would like to see it incorporated in the report.” The response, particularly from Mr Gentleman, was simply: “No, I disagree. I will not have any part of it.”
We could have said: “Righto. We can go away and write whatever we want to.” If the Labor members had had any sense they would have said, “Perhaps I do not quite agree with that form of words. Can we have a discussion about it?” From time to time they did, and there is much that Mr Smyth and I brought to the table which is now in volume 1, the principal report. But if anything was even slightly contentious, the response was: “No, we do not want to talk about it. No, we do not agree with it.”
That gave us free rein to go away and say a lot more than we would have said or that possibly would have appeared if it had been done with a balanced, critical—in the good sense of the word—approach, with the material appearing in volume 1 rather than in dissenting comments. But the Labor members, particularly Mr Gentleman, were unhelpful. If you really did want to say something difficult, Mick would say, “No, I do not want to hear anything about it.” It became a case of taking it away and putting it in our dissenting comments.
That is not the way to run an estimates process where you are scrutinising the budget, where you are looking at the way a government is organising and running the budget and providing services to the people who pay our wages. The people of Canberra pay our salaries. They pay us a salary to do a proper job. What Mr Smyth and I experienced in the estimates process was three Labor members running interference to protect their minister mates. They would say: “We have got to stop and have morning tea. The minister has been sitting there for a long time.” Give me a break! We almost had to bundy on and bundy off. Then they would say, “No, we cannot possibly come back because the poor minister has been answering questions for a long time.”
If we are prepared to put in the hours—and the members and staff of the estimates committee do put in extraordinary hours—it behoves the ministers to be there and to answer questions for a reasonable time. We had the usual process where basically the Secretariat staff started trying to get estimates appointments put in ministers’ diaries. It was almost as if there was a revelation: “Gosh, we have got estimates. How am I going to fit that into my busy routine?”