Report on the 2023–24 Budget Estimates

Danny O’BRIEN (Gippsland South) (10:24): I will also speak about the Public Accounts and Estimates Committee’s report. I am sure everyone in the chamber is very relieved that it has been tabled at long last, because there is a fair bit of leeway for people to get up and speak on committee reports. I was deep in conversation with the minister at the table, the Minister for Environment, at the time that the member for Point Cook spoke. I understand he referred to me as the grandfather of PAEC, which is just typical of the blowouts in rhetoric that we hear from the Labor government. I may well be the father of PAEC but perhaps not the grandfather.

This is an excellent report, and it is a privilege to be on the Public Accounts and Estimates Committee. I have been there for a long time, coming up for – well, it is nine years at least: nine years of public accounts and estimates hearings sessions, plus the forthcoming outcomes hearings which we have as well. It is a critical committee, and there are very few opportunities in public life, in terms of the government, for members of Parliament to actually directly interrogate ministers and public servants about their activity, whether that is directly related to the budget or indeed wider policy issues. And yes, one of the other members said to me during a meeting at one stage, ‘Oh, you’ve got question time; you’ve got all these other things.’ You really do not. There is question time, and then there are the PAEC hearings, when a member of Parliament actually gets an opportunity to query ministers on what they are doing.

The member for Albert Park talked about the gruelling process that it is. It seemed somehow to be an even more gruelling process this year. It just seemed to go on and on and on and be very, very difficult, and I was frustrated, as I often am, at the lack of accountability of ministers and their departments – aided, I might say, by the running interference by government members, who, when they were directed to, no doubt, by the former Premier’s private office, stepped in with a point of order on something frivolous to try and chew up our time.

I do believe that the Public Accounts and Estimates Committee hearings need reform. It is just totally inappropriate that some portfolios get as little as 3 minutes for, I think, the Greens and non-government members get 7 minutes to interrogate an entire portfolio. In a circumstance where the cleverer ministers can just chew up 7 minutes very, very easily with obfuscation, with ducking, with weaving, with interference, as I said run by their colleagues, it is not enough and it needs to be improved. As I have said, and to reiterate my role – I am sure some members get sick of me talking about it, being the experienced one – this is not just about holding ministers to account; this is the appropriate opportunity for the Parliament to hold the public service to account as well, and it is very important that we have that opportunity properly. So I am very strongly supportive of the public accounts committee, and I think we do need to see some reform on it.

As I said, this is a really good report. I been critical in the past that we have had too much detail. It is still quite a weighty tome, but this time around Caroline Williams and her team, in drafting the basis of it, have done a great job. There was good interaction from all members of the committee, including government members, in making amendments and suggestions to improve it, some of which were blatantly political. But we still ended up with a good report.

The two other issues I want to touch on in particular where there are shortcomings in this report are the issues of the cancellation of the Commonwealth Games and the changes to the school payroll tax situation, both of which occurred after the committee hearings. It was my view that, particularly in the light of the Commonwealth Games, the then Premier, the then minister for Commonwealth Games and all those ministers responsible should have in fact been recalled and we should have had the opportunity to requestion them, because it was only a short time before the decision to cancel the Commonwealth Games that we were interviewing the witnesses and everything was apparently hunky-dory – and yet three or four weeks later the whole games were off and Victorians were left with a massive bill. Indeed recommendations 42 and 43 tackle that issue of the Commonwealth Games.

I do think we also need to improve performance measures. Too often this government is focused on the outputs, not the outcomes. It is irrelevant how much money you are spending; what is the outcome you are getting? But this is a good report, and I commend it to the house.

Stay up-to-date

Subscribe to Danny’s regular newsletter to stay informed about issues relating to Gippsland South.