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Friday, 3 April 1987
Page: 1809

Senator WATSON(9.12) —I wish to refer back to the matter relating to costings. I believe that this is an inappropriate use of the Advance to the Minister for Finance. I remind the Minister for Education (Senator Ryan) that the Advance to the Minister for Finance is a provision authorised by the annual Appropriation Act and made available to the Minister. I also remind the Minister that as a general principle the only amounts which would remain as a charge to the appropriations for the Advance to the Minister for Finance at the end of the financial year are those that are urgent and unforeseen. I believe that the Minister cannot claim that the setting up of a commission has been unforeseen. One could hardly say that it was urgent. It might be urgent in the Minister's mind, but this program has been around for quite some time.

There are other items in the annual appropriations that were examined the other night that made provisions for future commissions and for future consultants to be appointed. I refer to the Constitutional Reform Commission, for which an amount of $200,000 was set aside to cover such a contingency for advertising. I remind the Minister that funding under the Advance to the Minister for Finance should be for urgent and unforeseen expenditure. These expenditures, I submit, are foreseen. One cannot say that they are unforeseen because the legislation deliberately sets up a commission of three persons which will operate for up to 12 months. Therefore, the Government should have been able to put some sort of cost figures on the matter.

The Minister will be aware that annual circulars are issued to departments which outline the procedures and emphasise the requirements for departments to ensure that their applications in relation to the Advance to the Minister for Finance contain, or are appropriately supported by, sufficient detail to demonstrate that the requests comply with the urgent and unforeseen criterion. I submit that such requests under these circumstances could not meet the criterion which is set out each year in annual circulars issued by the Department of Finance. The Government is trying to use a backdoor method of financing this Commission rather than using the normal appropriations which can be foreseen and estimated with a reasonable degree of accuracy. If it can be done in other areas, I submit that it should have been done in these circumstances. Departments are required to submit adequately supported applications for funds to the Department of Finance. So I would have hoped that this documentation could be properly supported. I believe that the Minister is inappropriately using this mechanism of the Advance to the Minister for Finance rather than the normal appropriations, which should have been before this Parliament in the form of the estimates in recent days. I would like the Minister's response.