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Thursday, 6 October 1983
Page: 1432

Mrs KELLY(11.43) —I have been listening with interest to the Opposition's comments on the Budget in this debate on the Estimates. I attempted to find out during the debate what the Opposition's alternative was. I am afraid that the contributions of Opposition members to the debate have been totally devoid of any constructive comments on this Budget. What we have seen consistently is just criticism of the Budget presented by the Government. No alternative has been presented. What would the Opposition's deficit be? How would it increase revenue? The problem with members of the Opposition is that they are not being constructive at all. They have not outlined to us from where they would get their revenue. If the size of their deficit were to be low, where would the money come from? I do not think the Opposition has looked seriously at that question, nor has it presented an alternative view to the electorate generally.

I wish to relate my comments specifically to the Department of Finance. In Parliament one very rarely has the opportunity to make some constructive comments about the role of government departments and the relationship between a government department and parliamentary committees. As a member of the Joint Committee of Public Accounts I commend the work done by the Department of Finance in its assistance to that Committee. The Committee has a permanent observer from the Department of Finance and we get considerable backup support from that Department in the compilation of our numerous reports. A number of parliamentary committees-the Joint Committee on the Australian Capital Territory is one-do not always take advantage of the expertise that is available within government departments. I know that that is going to be a new direction for the Joint Committee of Public Accounts. It will use more expertise that is available in departments, as the secretariat of the committee, which has such wide ranging responsibilities, has limited resources.

I think it is important that committees get a quick response to their reports. Unfortunately, there has been considerable delay in getting responses in the form of the Finance minutes. I congratulate the Minister for Finance (Mr Dawkins ). He has been aware of the delay in getting responses to the Public Accounts Committee reports and has given this matter a high priority in his Department. We are now seeing a much quicker response to Public Accounts Committee reports. I also congratulate the Minister for Finance on the work that he has done in regard to budgetary reform measures. He recently tabled a document entitled ' Program Presentation of Appropriations and Outlays-Departmental Estimates 1983- 84'. I think this is very important because it lays the basis for a total reform of the way in which the Budget is presented. The aim of this change is to present a Budget which the public will understand more easily and which will provide much more information. I believe that is a step in the right direction. The Minister, in his program presentation, provided tables on individual programs which are intended to assist Parliament in the examination of the 1983- 84 Budget. This document provides a cross reference to data in the Budget Papers and contains an explanation of budgetary concepts, including the relationship between appropriations, expenditure from the Consolidated Revenue Fund and outlays.

There is no doubt that a great deal of work goes into the presentation of budgetary papers; but for so long it has been very difficult to get a breakdown of actual cost estimates of programs. If we as a parliament are to exercise proper review procedures of government programs it is essential that we have detailed cost estimates. Of course, this is only the first step, and this presentation will be subject to further development and refinement on the basis of this year's experience with a view to the improved presentation of this information in future years. In circumstances such as we have had to date in which economic performance has been the poorest for 35 years, and especially bearing in mind the importance that we place on strict attention to efficiency and effectiveness of tax expenditure in outlay programs, this new review outlined by the Government is to be commended.

Another major reform which I think is significant is the financial impact statement. In future all second reading speeches will include a statement of the financial impact of the legislation. These statements will include estimates of any significant costs. The Government is taking this action because it believes the community has a right to know the financial and economic effect of government policies and programs, and this reform will give effect to this belief. This is to be commended, and I believe we will see further development in this area over the next few years.

Also, I commend the Minister for Finance for the work that he is doing in relation to the machinery of government. This matter will overlap with the responsibilities of the Department of Finance and the Public Service Board. Last week the Minister for Finance announced certain matters in relation to the reform of the Public Service, and a task force will be set up assisted by a group of public servants from the Department of Finance and from the Public Service Board. Over the next few months we will see an enhanced role for the Department of Finance, in co-ordination with the Public Service Board, in looking at the machinery of government. I think this is also an important step forward with the involvement of the Department of Finance. The Federal Government concedes that we just cannot relate management techniques principally to the Public Service Board without considering the financial implications. I believe we will see much greater co-ordination between the Board and the Department of Finance under the responsibility of the Minister for Finance.

I now refer to the Commonwealth Superannuation Fund as it is within the domain of the Department of Finance. I believe that in Australia there is a general misunderstanding of the Commonwealth superannuation scheme. When we were conducting a review of superannuation benefits it was drawn to my attention that many people believe that public servants are very well off through their superannuation scheme. There are many misunderstandings of the facts. The situation is that public servants contribute to their superannuation scheme throughout their working lives. All the arrangements entered into on retirement are strictly controlled by the Government scheme. In other words, one cannot have any schemes for payoffs in the last few years of work. The superannuation scheme is controlled rigidly, unlike some of the private superannuation schemes where people are not paid salaries in the last few years but rather gain huge lump sums on retirement.

The other factor that I think is important is that the Commonwealth superannuation scheme prevents double dipping. Because a large majority of public servants elect to have superannuation payments made over the remainder of their lives many of them are not eligible for age pensions. As a result there is no way in which they can gain double benefits. That matter has not been given due consideration by the public at large. Public servants make a contribution to a superannuation scheme all their working lives. In fact when they elect to take a graduated payment throughout the remainder of their non-working lives they are excluded, in a majority of cases, from gaining age pension benefits. Many of my constituents, particularly widows who are receiving the balance of their husbands' entitlements, would be much better off by giving that back-if they could-and getting all the benefits such as the age pension and all the other benefits of that entitlement.

The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN (Mrs Darling) —Order! The honourable member's time has expired.