Page 2103 - Week 06 - Thursday, 26 June 2008

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committee asks questions, it expects them to be answered. I went and got advice from the manager of committees. It is quite clear that it does not matter where you have been asked something, what you have been asked or what you have provided somewhere else. Whether it be an FOI, a document or whatever, if the committee wants an answer, a document to examine or something for inclusion in the committee report, it is entitled to it. It has powers to demand those documents, or attendance, should it so choose to use them.

We should not have to choose to use them, but the government has made it an art form. Mr Barr used it on several occasions. He said, “Go and read the Hansard. I answered that fully in the Assembly. I did this somewhere else.” I do not care. The committee should not have to care either.

Unfortunately, on a number of occasions, when we got to that sort of impasse, the members asking questions were not backed up by the committee chair. That is unfortunate, because the committee has been given a job, clearly set out in the terms of reference, to inquire into the budget and report on that budget. We are not here to inquire what happened in the Assembly or what happened somewhere else. We are here to inquire into the budget as it has been given to the Assembly.

There are some recommendations that I was pleased about. We got agreement with the other committee members about sets of rules that would make this quite clear. The Senate has them. It is appropriate that we clarify at this time with a majority government that thinks it can get away with whatever it wants because it controls the numbers and the chair on the committee. It is quite clear that we need a set of rules.

The other thing was not allowing officers to answer. On a number of occasions, I wanted to question one particular officer, the head of tourism, about something she had written in an email. They are her words; it is her email. I wanted to know what she was thinking when she wrote that. The minister constantly said, “I have answered that question.” He cannot answer that question for that person. He cannot know. The committee had a right to an answer, and we did not get it. It is typical of what happens.

There was language. The Chief Minister again led the charge using unparliamentary language. Again, it is about setting an example. That is why, in the dissenting report, we have a recommendation that says:

We recommend that the Chief Minister require all of his Ministers to comply with the Ministerial Code of Conduct, particularly with respect to answering questions in Committee hearings.

It does say that you have to respect people in the code of conduct, but it was not being offered in the hearings.

It was constantly referred to: “The answer is in the budget papers.” There might be an answer in the budget papers, but the government are there to prove to the committee that what they are saying is correct—and how they got to that conclusion. It is not up to the committee to go haring back through budget papers. I am quite happy to take them down; I often do. I often end up with four or five budget boxes beside my position there at the committee desk. But it is for the government to justify that

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