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Estimates: Questions about improving scrutiny during Estimates

During Parliamentary Budget Estimates on Tuesday 26 July 2022, I asked the Clerk about how we can make Estimates hearings a real opportunity for scrutiny of government. 

You can read the answers below or in the official Queensland Parliament Record of Proceedings (Hansard).

Mr BERKMAN: I will put my first question to the Clerk, if I might. You will remember that at last year’s estimates I asked you how much it costs to run these hearings and, while were you not able to give an exact amount, I think you said that there are a lot of sunk cost—effectively, the cost is already borne by the parliament. My question is: does it follow that providing additional time for questioning during estimates would put very little extra burden on the parliamentary budget, whether that was running multiple committees in parallel over the seven days or having extra estimates days throughout the year?

Mr Laurie: Running estimates in parallel committees, for example—we have done that in years gone past. I think that happened in 2013 or 2014 or thereabouts. There would be marginally more cost to running parallel committees because we would have to duplicate staffing arrangements and things like that, but in terms of our overall budget we are not talking enormous amounts of funds. The simple answer to your question is that the additional cost of additional hours or additional days or concurrent hearings is not what I would call a huge sum. It would be some impost, but it would not be a huge sum.

Mr BERKMAN: Referring again back to your answer in last year’s estimates, I think you described that much of the value we get from estimates might be from departments preparing, reflecting on their performance, and the prospect of them being scared about what they might be asked. Touching on your comments this morning about the quality and function of these estimates hearings, is it the case that the benefits of that reflection, preparation and questioning would be even greater if there was more time in these hearings for non-government questions, fewer Dorothy Dixers?

CHAIR: Hopefully the word ‘scared’ is not supported by evidence. Mr Laurie: I do not know if the word ‘fear’ is what I used.

Mr BERKMAN: I could read the transcript for you. I have it right here.

Mr Laurie: Maybe I did.

CHAIR: He was just reflecting on himself personally. Mr Laurie: I do reinforce what I said last year about the fact that, in my view, the value of this process is as much about the preparation and the self-reflection that goes on as the hearings themselves. I would reinforce that. Logic would tend to say that if there was more in the way of that oversight in terms of extra hours, different days or different formats then it would probably impact the same. I think the trick would be to find the tipping point where resources are not wasted overly, because there is a lot of time and effort that goes into the preparation for estimates. We do not want it to be so much of a burden that it becomes a wasteful exercise, but we want it to be of sufficient burden that it actually achieves the purposes.

Mr BERKMAN: Just a quick follow-up, Chair, on precisely on that point?

CHAIR: I am advised that unfortunately the time is expired. Member for Maiwar?

Mr BERKMAN: Thank you very much, Chair. Very briefly, in your view are we yet at that tipping point or would we benefit from more time in estimates?

CHAIR: I might put that as a rhetorical in that there is something subjective and opinion based.

Mr BERKMAN: He is a very experienced witness.

CHAIR: He is a very experienced witness.

Mr Laurie: Maybe that is something for the CLA, Chair.

CHAIR: I note that the member creatively used that to get that opinion up. I might turn now to the member for Macalister.

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