The Liberal Party will today move to establish a powerful new Legislative Council Committee to monitor all budget related issues when Parliament resumes next month.
Shadow Treasurer Rob Lucas said this new Budget Monitoring Committee will be modelled (albeit with some important differences) on the powerful Senate Estimates Committees which, for many years, has provided a forum for non-Government senators to grill Ministers and public servants on budget related issues.
“It should also be noted that the New South Wales Parliament has introduced an Upper House Estimates Committee process to keep the Government accountable,” Mr. Lucas said.
“While the existing once a year Assembly Estimates Committees would continue to scrutinize all portfolios, it is clear that Rann Government abuses of their processes have created many significant problems:
• Government control of Committee numbers limits accountability as whatever the¬ Government wants, it gets;
• Ministers limit questions through long ‘introductory statements’ and ‘dorothy dixer’ questions from Government backbenchers;
• Ministers under pressure are scheduled for late night hearings or for shortened periods of time to minimize media coverage;
• All questions have to be directed to the Minister and public servants, such as the CEO’s are not allowed to be questioned;
• No ongoing monitoring of the budget occurs because the Committees only meet once a year to consider the budget bills; and,
• Ministers now refusing to answer questions which, for many years, were answered by both Labor and Liberal Governments.
“This new Budget Monitoring Committee would resolve most of these problems as ¬the Committee would be controlled by a majority of non-Government members as are all current Legislative Council Committees.
“This Committee would not delay the passage of the budget bills, but instead would monitor budget related issues throughout the year. For example, if there were massive cost blow-out issues in road or hospital projects, then senior Transport or Health public servants could be brought before the Committee to answer questions.
“Similarly, if Treasury’s Mid Year Budget Review was to indicate significant budget variations, then senior Treasury officers could be questioned.”
Mr. Lucas said that Senate Estimates Committees have helped keep Governments accountable by using the full powers of the Senate to acquire answers to questions which Ministers might prefer to ignore.
“For example, Mr. Rann in last year’s Estimates hearings refused to provide details on the cost of consultancies even though Labor and Liberal Governments for many years have answered similar questions.
“This new Committee would have the power to demand answers to these questions from senior public servants.
“Because the Rann Government won the last election so easily, there now seems to be a view from Mr. Rann and his Ministers that they can do whatever they want. The Rann Government have become increasingly arrogant and contemptuous of any questioning or criticism of the Government.
“The Rann Government is fast becoming the most secretive and unaccountable Government in the state’s history, supported by the fact that Mr. Rann has ignored more than 600 questions on notice for up to four years, as well as the abuses of the Estimates Committees processes.
“Whilst Mr. Rann often talks about Parliamentary reform, the sort of reform he wants would only reduce the Parliament’s power to keep him and his Government accountable. For example, Mr. Rann wants to abolish the Legislative Council or gut its powers by reducing the number of members and Committees.
“However, the introduction of a powerful new Legislative Council Budget Monitoring Committee would actually be a real Parliamentary reform which increases the power and capacity of the Parliament to keep Mr. Rann and any future Premier accountable.”