The longest Budget Estimates 2019-2020 inquiry… is now over!

After twelve months and 12 days, seven Legislative Council Portfolio Committees have finally wrapped up their Inquiry into Budget Estimates 2019-20 and tabled their reports. Take a look at the reports to find out what dominated the discussion of the Budget Estimates hearings and what your ministers and governments had to say in response!

If the numbers tell the story, the Inquiry into budget estimates for the financial year 2019-2020 is more than extraordinary. In total, 62 public hearings were conducted to examine 25 portfolio areas. Around 13,123 supplementary questions were prepared and asked by the Members of the Legislative Council and responded by government departments.

This inquiry into budget estimates involved three rounds of hearings – initial, supplementary, and further hearings in 2020. This increase in the overall time for questioning, and with the witness invitation extended to parliamentary secretaries, this Inquiry allowed the committees to better understand and scrutinise the proposed budget and hold the government to account.

This Inquiry was also extraordinary in that the further hearings were interrupted with the disturbance caused by COVID-19. The duration of the public hearing for the Health minister and departmental officers was halved to allow the ministers and government officials to front the pandemic facing the State. For other hearings, some witnesses who were working but in isolation due to COVID-19 issues, appeared before a committee via teleconference. Post hearing responses, which were due 21 days after the hearing, were on average given a two-week extension. Out of all these logistical issues, one of the most challenging was fitting 11 witnesses in a hearing room while observing the 1.5 metres social distancing rules!

With the tabling of the reports, the Inquiry for the Financial Year 2019-2020 has come to an end. While the House has resolved dates for the next round of the Budget Estimates Inquiry, with the delay in the release of the budget for the Financial Year 2020-2021 due to COVID-19, we are unsure when the Estimates inquiry for the next financial year will return. What we are sure of, however, is that the Upper House Committees’ scrutiny of the government continues even during a pandemic and in the midst of social distancing rules. Follow our Twitter account or check out our website to see what inquiry activities we are currently undertaking!