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AGAIN, Budget estimates is a parody of how democracy should work.
The government should be answerable for its decisions and ministers should answer questions honestly and with integrity, but in the first morning of estimates yesterday both the Premier and Treasurer failed to answer simple questions that were politically inconvenient, especially about public sector job cuts.
The Premier said he didn’t have a copy of last year’s risks report, when asked about the GST revenue at that point of time. His advisors and agency heads gathered to help him didn’t offer a copy either. Surely this is a document the Premier should have to hand in a budget estimates committee? Later, Mr Hodgman also said he didn’t have a copy of ABS jobs figures.
The Treasurer refused to answer when asked when the government decided to break its promise not to sack frontline workers.
Meanwhile, down the hallway, the Premier refused to define what a frontline job was when asked directly. Mr Hodgman was asked if he considered a Child Protection Worker, a Quarantine Officer, a School Social Worker and a number of other roles ‘frontline’.
The Premier dodged the question and said it was up to agencies to decide about savings strategies, with the minister responsible for each area to work with them.
When asked where an audit of WRIPs and redundancies was at Mr Hodgman said the audit was underway and would be completed by the end of June, but said only the government’s response to the audit, not the report itself, would be released publically because it included details of individuals.
The Premier couldn’t answer simple questions on his government’s own budget such as when it knew about the state’s GST allocation and exactly where the ‘8000 new jobs’ figure came from.
During a committee yesterday the Treasurer was asked if he deliberately underestimated GST revenue last year in order to sack 1200 people, seeing as he switched to a different method of calculating this revenue for the 2014-15 budget then switched back to the old method this year.
Mr Gutwein didn’t answer the question.
Budget estimates also sees government ministers questioning government ministers – an exercise in spruiking headlines from their budget media releases rather than scrutiny.
For the rest of this week ministers will continue to be probed in estimates, and there are many legitimate questions that should be asked of them, especially about cuts happening in their portfolio areas. We can only hope that some of these are answered honestly.
AFTER not including a table of the agency savings remaining across the forward estimates in its budget two weeks ago, the government released its “Residual Agency Savings Strategies” this week. See this table below. (Click on the table to make it bigger)
The majority of savings since the last budget came from WRIPs, with agencies required to backfill these positions because these programs are about renewing the workforce rather than reducing it, which means when these workers are replaced the savings disappear or are significantly reduced.
It’s worth noting that a number of agencies now have their savings bundled up into the one set of figures, unlike in previous savings tables, including the Tasmanian Audit Office, the Integrity Commission and others.