Private Member's Motion: Budget and Finance Committee
Wednesday, 12 May 2010
The Hon. R.I. LUCAS (16:36): I move:
1. That a committee to be called the Budget and Finance Committee be appointed to monitor and scrutinise all matters relating to the state budget and the financial administration of the state.
2. That the standing orders of the Legislative Council in relation to select committees be applied and accordingly—
(a)That standing order No. 389 be so far suspended as to enable the chairperson of the committee to have a deliberative vote only;
(b)That this council permits the committee to authorise the disclosure or publication, as it sees fit, of any evidence or documents presented to the committee prior to any such evidence being reported to the council; and
(c)That standing order No. 396 be suspended to enable strangers to be admitted when the committee is examining witnesses unless the committee otherwise resolves, but they shall be excluded when the committee is deliberating.
3. That members of the council who are not members of the committee may, at the discretion of the chairperson, participate in proceedings of the committee but may not vote, move any motions or be counted for the purposes of a quorum.
4. That a full-time research officer position be made available to assist the work of the committee.
I follow the example of my colleague the Hon. Mr Brokenshire and refer honourable members and those millions of other interested readers of Hansard—
The Hon. M. Parnell: Tens of millions.
The Hon. R.I. LUCAS: —tens of millions of interested readers, as my colleague says—to my previous contribution on this when I moved the original motion on 7 February 2007 and then summed up on 28 March 2007. Whilst I will raise a number of issues, I do not intend to repeat all the detail of the original debate to convince the Legislative Council, as it did in its entirety (with the exception, obviously, of government members) to vote for the establishment of the Budget and Finance Committee in 2007.
At the outset, I indicate that I hope that a majority of members in this chamber are able to vote for the re-establishment of the Budget and Finance Committee, and, secondly, that we can proceed to a vote when the parliament next sits for private members' business, which is in two weeks' time. I will send an email around to all members to confirm that wish. It is obviously in the hands of members in terms of its timing.
At the time of moving to establish the Legislative Council Budget and Finance Committee, there was strong support from the opposition and all Independent and minor party members at that time. The government, through the Leader of the Government and the Hon. Mr Finnigan—who, as I outlined earlier, believes he will soon be the Leader of the Government in this chamber—trenchantly opposed the establishment of the Budget and Finance Committee. I will briefly remind members of some of the extraordinary claims the government made. The Hon. Mr Finnigan said that the mere moving of this motion was a very strong argument in support of the reform or abolition of the Legislative Council, that it was a clear demonstration that this council was not being used to its proper effect in holding the government to account. He said that it was an indication that the Legislative Council was becoming a political football, which ignores due process in order to get a headline.
So, the establishment of a Budget and Finance Committee in the Legislative Council was a political football that ignored due process, in the view of government members in this chamber. The Hon. Mr Finnigan went on to say that it was a 'political exercise just to get a few headlines, trying to get a few witnesses in order to get some TV stories and to get some articles in The Advertiser'. He went on to say that it encapsulated the problems with the operations of the Legislative Council and that it was a half-baked proposal with extraordinarily light terms of reference which say almost nothing. He further said that it was an alternative process to enable us to go after public servants, and indicated that we, the Legislative Council, were no longer interested in presenting policies and plans for how to run the state and being fiscally responsible. In an extraordinary summary paragraph he said:
I urge all members to uphold the traditions of the Westminster system and continue to hold the government to account through the traditional and proper communication channels and the proper means instead of this half-baked, ill-conceived attempt to try to embarrass public servants instead of taking the fight up to the government.
That was the government's position in relation to the establishment of a Budget and Finance Committee—the extraordinary assertion that the support of an accountability mechanism such as the Budget and Finance Committee was in some way inimical to the traditions of the Westminster system, that in some way this was a threat to holding governments to account for budget and financial processes. Pleasingly that was only the view of the current Leader of the Government in this chamber and of someone who believes he will soon be the Leader of the Government in this chamber. All other members—Independent, minor party and opposition members—supported the establishment of the Budget and Finance Committee.
I will not go through all the detail, but I believe that all existing members of the Legislative Council would be only too aware of the work of the Budget and Finance Committee over the past three years. I advise all new members of the Legislative Council that, if they wish, I am happy to meet with them to outline what I believe to be the worth and merit of the establishment of the Budget and Finance Committee. Rather than just me speaking, I ask members to speak to other members of the committee who participated in its operations, particularly the Hons Mr Hood and Mr Brokenshire, who served time on the committee; to the Hon. Mr Darley, who was almost a permanent attendee of the committee; and to the Hon. Mr Parnell, who attended a number of meetings of particular interest to him.
I reiterate to members that, unlike most of our other committees, in establishing this committee, as a result of an amendment moved by the Hon. Mr Parnell, to which we agreed readily, this committee comprised (and we hope will continue to comprise) five members, but all other members of the council can participate and ask questions when they so choose. We follow a process, but I think probably another half a dozen members of the Legislative Council attended various meetings. The Hon. Mr Darley was an almost permanent attendee at its meetings and we appreciated his input, but up to half a dozen other members came along to meetings that discussed various matters of interest to them.
If there was a particular portfolio of interest, such as the environment portfolio in the case of the Hon. Mr Parnell, members attended those meetings to ask questions. If one had a particular interest in matters relating to disability funding, then the member concerned would attend the committee when the chief executives of those departments and agencies that fund that particular area of government were present, a matter that would be of interest, I am sure, to the Hon. Ms Vincent. There is the option to attend and participate in the operations of the committee.
The other matters I will refer to briefly are that the committee comprised on the last occasion five members—three non-government and two government. It was chaired, as are a number of select committees, by a non-government member. The chairing is obviously a decision for the committee to take at its first meeting. I strongly believe that, if the role of the Budget and Finance Committee is to be as we would wish it to be, irrespective of who is in government—whether it be Labor or Liberal—it and the operations of the Legislative Council will be best served if this committee is chaired by a non-government member. I am sure that the Hon. Mr Brokenshire can attest to the fact that, if this committee were chaired by a government member, the smooth operations of the committee could be made much more difficult.
Certainly the most recent example we had was when the government again chose to prorogue the house early, in early December of last year, prior to the election. The government has a view that when that occurs none of the committees should continue to operate—in particular, the Budget and Finance Committee, as well as other select committees. Pleasingly, a majority of members of that committee did not take that view, but if there were to be a government member there is the potential for the operations of the committee to be negatively affected. However, as I said, that is a decision for the committee to make.
It is Liberal Party policy—and it was at the election—that this committee ought to be a standing committee of the Legislative Council. Clearly, that is not the government's position because it did not support it even being established under the select committee provisions of the Legislative Council. It remains the view of the Liberal Party that, if it were in government, a standing committee should be established in this area, which would ensure that its resourcing and staffing would be consistent with that of other committees.
I mentioned this in earlier contributions, but I would like to quickly note that I am not personally a great supporter of the joint committees of the parliament. I am of the view that if this Legislative Council is to demonstrate its worth and merit it needs to control the committees in which it participates to the degree that it can. Only one committee, the Statutory Authorities Review Committee, is wholly Legislative Council based: all the other committees are joint committees of the parliament. Unravelling all that is potentially a very difficult task; nevertheless, it remains my personal view (it is not a party view) that, as we make changes to the committee system to the extent that we can, those who believe in the merit and worth of the Legislative Council as a chamber ought to bear in mind that we should be strengthening the role of the Legislative Council and its control of the committee system.
So I believe that a new Budget and Finance Committee that is a standing committee of the Legislative Council would be a powerful new arm of the committee system of the Legislative Council. I am also of the view, as I indicated previously, that a third committee which perhaps covered more of the social policy areas controlled by the Legislative Council would be advantageous. Of course, we already have a Social Development Committee, which is a joint committee of the parliament. If you were to make changes along those lines you would necessarily need to make changes to the joint committee processes.
Again, and worryingly, some of the recent committees that have been established in the joint committee process—such as Natural Resources, and I think also Aboriginal affairs, although I am not sure about that one—have moved away from the equal representation from both houses model, which involved three members from the House of Assembly and three members from the Legislative Council. Natural Resources has four House of Assembly members and—
The Hon. R.I. LUCAS: The Hon. Mr Gazzola advises me that his understanding is that the only committee that has moved away from the 3:3 model is the Natural Resources Committee. I think that was an unfortunate development. When the original committees were established they were 3:3. I understand that the government has a view of perhaps increasing that committee to six members from the House of Assembly and only three from the Legislative Council, but I hope if that ever saw the light of day the minor parties and Independents would give the proposition short shrift. It is bad enough that it is 4:3 at the moment, but if it were to become 6:3 the domination by the House of Assembly over the Legislative Council would certainly be contrary to the notions this chamber originally had in relation to the establishment of joint committees.
The Legislative Council is an important chamber and I do not believe it should be seen to be subservient, in any of its roles, to another place. The Legislative Council should assert its role in relation to the committees and seek to develop and strengthen the role of the committee system of the Legislative Council in relation not only to this decision on the Budget and Finance Committee but also to decisions on other committees as well.
My final point is that while at the moment we are looking at a committee that is to be established under the select committee provisions—rather than the standing committee provisions, which is the policy of the Liberal Party—my personal view (not the party view) is that we ought to support the position that if it is established as a standing committee at some stage in the future it should continue to be chaired by a non-government member. That would be a paid position, as are the positions for the Statutory Authorities Review Committee and other committees which are currently held by government members.
I believe an argument can be mounted for that. Certainly, when one looks at the Senate and other upper house committees around the nation one can see that at least some of the paid committee positions are chaired by non-government members. One can defend an argument, whether under a Labor or Liberal government, that the chair of the Statutory Authorities Committee could be a government member but the chair of the Budget and Finance Committee, if it were to be a standing committee, could be a non-government member. Given that two-thirds of the members of the Legislative Council in recent years have been non-government members, I do not think that is an unreasonable position. I hasten to add that is a personal view and not a party view.
A more detailed and lengthy explanation for the need for the Budget and Finance Committee is outlined in my contributions in February and March of 2007. I will not be repeating those, other than to say that I urge members to support it. I hope we can have a vote in two weeks. In particular, to those new members of the Legislative Council, if they wish to have a discussion about how the Budget and Finance Committee operates, I am only too happy to have that discussion prior to our voting, or I urge you to discuss it with some of the other members of the committee or people who have attended meetings of the committee to get their perspective as well.
Debate adjourned on motion of Hon. J.M. Gazzola.