Page 3167 - Week 07 - Thursday, 30 June 2011

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It is about time that this government came clean and told the people of the ACT exactly what factors it puts to the ICRC that drive the ICRC’s decision making. In any case, the ACT government is not so proud as to ignore the recommendations of the ICRC. We saw that in the estimates committee hearings when Mr Corbell was questioned as to why he rejected the recommendation of the ICRC that the feed-in tariff for medium-scale solar generators should be reduced. Mr Corbell told the estimates committee that he rejected the ICRC’s recommendation because he “didn’t agree with it”. Mr Corbell then went into a long discussion about why he did not agree with it. We have seen the results of his failures and his lack of understanding of the pricing in this matter.

The bottom line, though, is that Mr Corbell rejected the notion that the ICRC is an independent body because he made his own decision, anyway, regardless of that independence. I expect, therefore, that the government will no longer hide behind the veil of independence of the ICRC when it comes to issues such as prices for electricity and water. The government must take responsibility for those prices and accept that it is the government’s financial drivers and policies, such as the water abstraction charge and the utilities tax, that influence those prices.

That aside, the ICRC provides a valuable service to the community. Like the Auditor-General, it comes to determinations that the government might not always like, such as the recommendation on the medium-scale solar generator feed-in tariff. Perhaps, were the government to broaden the scope of the ICRC to give it more scope to consider its determinations by giving more balance across the economic, social and environmental factors, it might end up with determinations that are not rejected.

Proposed expenditure agreed to.

Proposed expenditure—Part 1.24—Legal Aid Commission (ACT)—$9,094,000 (net cost of outputs), totalling $9,094,000.

MR RATTENBURY (Molonglo) (2.09 am): Legal aid is a good demonstration of the pivotal decisions that are made through budgets. When it comes to legal affairs, governments make crucial decisions about where the legal dollar is spent and, by extension, where it is not spent. That is of course at the heart of all government spending decisions—where it is best to spend our scarce resources to have the best and most strategic impact.

It brings us to the question of where the government has decided to spend in legal aid. There is $1.6 million in this budget to create a legal aid help desk. This is a welcome announcement because having a phone help desk will mean that not everyone has to physically come in for an appointment with a legal aid lawyer. There will be some minor matters that can be dealt with over the phone and it makes sense for them to be helped over the phone.

This was described during estimates as a triage approach, where the most serious issues are prioritised and brought in for a face-to-face appointment, and where less serious matters are dealt with over the phone. I think that is good news, and an interesting innovation.

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