Our portfolio committees are currently busy getting ready for one of the most significant events in the committee calendar – Budget Estimates. This blog will be the first in a series exploring what Budget Estimates is, how it has changed over the years, and how you can stay abreast of what’s happening.
The Budget Estimates hearings are the process by which the Legislative Council scrutinises the budget and the government’s projected spending for the year – the “budget estimates”. It is an opportunity for upper house committees to question ministers and public servants about what programs and services will be funded, what won’t be and why.
This year, Estimates will consist of 25 hearings held across 2 ½ weeks – from Thursday 29 August to Friday 13 September. It is a massive undertaking for the committees secretariat and for Ministers and public servants, who can be questioned by a committee for hours at a time.
How does it work?
Each year, the House refers the budget papers to the 7 portfolio committees for inquiry and report. This year there will be 7 different Budget Estimates inquiries running parallel – one by each of the 7 portfolio committees.
Budget Estimates centres around the hearings. There will be 1 hearing for each of the government’s 24 Ministers (plus 1 extra hearing to examine the President of the LC). These hearings are spread over 2 ½ weeks and across the different committees based on the portfolio they have been allocated.
For example, this year Portfolio Committee No. 3 – Education will hold 2 hearings to examine the Minister for Education and Early Childhood Learning and the Minister for Skills and Tertiary Education whereas Portfolio Committee No. 1 – Premier and Finance will hold 6 hearings to examine all 6 Ministers that they oversee.
“Budget Estimates” is used as shorthand to refer to the block of all the Budget Estimates hearings occurring during this time.
What does it look like?
Although Budget Estimates are committee inquiries they have their own process and operate differently to a normal inquiry. Unlike most inquiries, there are no submissions or site visits – Estimates centres entirely on hearings.
Also unlike a regular inquiry, only Ministers, Parliamentary Secretaries and department officials will be called to give evidence. The hearings will also look slightly different – there will commonly be many more witnesses at the table than normal and a table of advisers sitting behind them.
The committees are currently busy finalising details for these upcoming 25(!) hearings. Check out the Budget Estimates webpage for further details like the hearing schedules. The hearings will be webcast live on our website and open to the public to watch. Stay tuned for upcoming blog posts which will delve further into the exciting world of Budget Estimates!