Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2008 Week 06 Hansard (Thursday, 26 June 2008) . . Page.. 2105 ..
way whereby we can move forward and avoid some of the farce that causes Ms Porter to say that we squandered our time. Having a set of procedures and having it quite clear what is expected would help the executive in the way in which they approach the estimates and would make a better process forwards.
DR FOSKEY (Molonglo) (5.02): I am going to start on an area that Mr Smyth left off on, and that is one of the issues that I pursued at estimates—the executive decision to fund Kulture Break and Bell Shakespeare to work in ACT government schools. While I have absolutely no doubt about the value of these activities, and I am very interested to hear Mr Smyth’s comments about them, the Greens are concerned about the process.
It appears that in making the decision to fund those bodies no advice was sought from ArtsACT or the cultural council and that the Chief Minister made the decision, perhaps with cabinet support, based on his own convictions. There is no doubt that John Bell is passionate about building a new generation of Shakespeare lovers, and I support that. I have heard John Bell give a dinner talk on the issue, and it is a passion that he has clearly communicated to Mr Stanhope.
Mr Stanhope explained at estimates that he was also convinced that Kulture Break has the ability to get boys dancing—a laudable objective, I agree—but I am aware that there are other groups and projects that can do that; Quantum Leap, for instance. And circus skills hold a great deal of appeal for boys as well as for girls. But the issue is that these groups did not get an opportunity to throw their hats in the ring.
Indeed, funding is so scarce for the arts that not only must it be distributed fairly but it must be seen to be distributed fairly, and that means at arm’s length politically. A great deal was made of just this issue yesterday, as we debated the process for the gas-fired power plant and data centre and its location. In fact, the Chief Minister spent a great deal of time convincing us that these processes need to be held at arm’s length from government. Just because the sums allotted for arts activities are much smaller does not lessen the need to do things properly.
More generally, the Greens are concerned that the executive privilege has been extended through the life of this Assembly, which is the first majority government experience in the ACT. For instance, cabinet-in-confidence is claimed far too often for executive documents. It is entirely up to ministers to release these documents. They are not constrained by the act if disclosure is in the public interest. Of course, they should consult with groups that will be affected by such disclosure, but they cannot claim that they are constrained by legislation. Keeping important documents close to cabinet’s chest erodes trust and certainly reduces the transparency that we all claim to want from government.
The estimates committee made a number of recommendations in regard to the estimates process which were entirely sensible. Estimates are an important part of the legislative calendar and they deserve a formal place on it. The government’s response of “noted” is clearly a case of hedging its bets. And it is interesting that the government’s response was noted to all these recommendations of a government dominated estimates committee.