Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2008 Week 06 Hansard (Thursday, 26 June 2008) . . Page.. 2130 ..
MR SMYTH (Brindabella) (8.09): By its very nature, the Chief Minister’s Department is a veritable hotchpotch and the issues that emerge this year certainly match that. I think that is reflected in the nature of the budget. There is no sense of strategy in this budget; it simply spends; it is a repetition of what other Labor governments have done—big spending budgets, claims that we are addressing needs but, in fact, not necessarily delivering what the people need. And parts of CMD are in a bit of a mess because of this.
We see a reversal of support for the business sector—gutted in 2006, replaced in 2008. We see increased support for the major projects and facilitation unit, with some questionable outcomes so far. I think we need to see what they can achieve. It is interesting that the Chief Minister’s staff budget continues to increase. There are some increased resources for accountability, though. Perhaps there is a win there for the community.
I think the Achilles heel of this Stanhope government has been its relationship with the business community and, while the government has sought to build good links with the business community, or says it does, all its actions have been just the opposite. We had the economic white paper. That was meant to make the ACT the most business-friendly jurisdiction in Australia. But reality has seen the repudiation of all of the recommendations in the white paper.
The ACT had a most useful suite of programs that assisted a range of businesses until the smash and burn budget of 2006. We have got decisions that were based on the still-secret Costello report that said the government should not continue to support individual enterprises. Yet two years later, after the report on innovation from Howard Partners, we see a backflip on behalf of the Chief Minister. In addition to the $3.6 million for two specific projects, they ran $3 million over three years for innovation programs. There is also a quarter of a million dollars each year for marketing the ACT’s business and investment profile.
The concern with these proposals relates to the assistance for innovation. The Stanhope government has only provided for assistance for three years; that is, until 2010-11. We all know—that is, everyone except the Stanhope government—that the one thing the business community hates about government programs is the way that they can be changed. What business likes is consistency so that plans for longer than one year can be made. Investment proposals comprising significant amounts of funds cannot be justified for short periods. Ask the Stanhope government why this program has been funded for three years and I am not sure that we will get an answer.
I am also aware of concerns about the decision of the Rudd government to discontinue the commercialising emerging technologies, the ComET, scheme. I think it reached a climax this week, with the revelation that a number of early start-up companies, particularly a number here in the ACT, would be severely disadvantaged by this decision. This decision will affect those companies that typically are at an early point in the commercialisation process, when costs are very high and revenue is just starting to flow. The issue that we are dealing with here is called market failure, which of course is a technical concept that the Chief Minister may need to have explained to him. If he wants, he can see me afterwards and I will give him some assistance.