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Friday, 31 May 1996
Page: 1539


Senator MARGETTS(12.12 p.m.) —I thank the minister. It is very interesting that some of the changes have been figured into these figures because we were given to understand just a little while ago that it was absolutely unreasonable for us to expect that changes in staffing cuts were incorporated in these figures. We were told that these figures were a reflection of the previous government's decisions. So when there have been departmental changes, some have been reflected in these figures and others have not.

The answer before, `We have no idea of what the changes will be, but we will include some and not include others. Don't expect us to know what the outcomes will be,' seems to be rather extraordinary. We were told, `These are just five-twelfths. Don't worry, Senator, we don't have to justify or account for any of these figures. We have plucked them out of the air from the previous government.' This is extraordinary.

If areas that we know are losing, say, 10 per cent or more of their staff—especially areas where government has announced it wants to make cuts—get appropriations in this bill as if they were going to continue as they currently do, what does that mean when, for instance, Environment gets appropriations of about 10 per cent less than we would expect from the appropriation extrapolation of last year's budget? Where does that figure come from? Is it plucked out of the air? What does it mean when we are saying we are not including any of these current cuts?

I believe it is seriously misleading to present an appropriation for a program you have no intention of implementing or you believe is unlikely to be implemented. It is an abuse of accountability. It ties up the revenue which appears not to be available when in fact it is known to be so. This means that other worthy programs or uses, including the discharge of debt, may be denied on the presumption that the revenue has already been appropriated for some purpose. I also think that any Commonwealth department or program that cannot give a reasonably accurate indication of activity for the next five months is in serious trouble or has been badly mismanaged.