The budget process

The portcullis; a medieval gate which has become the symbol of the Parliament of the United Kingdom [Source: UK Parliament]

The executive (the Chief Minister and other ministers) is responsible for developing and managing the budget for the Australian Capital Territory.

Each year—typically in June—the Treasurer presents the ACT budget and tables an appropriation bill. The appropriation bill represents a request by the government of the Assembly to spend money and to collect revenue in order to provide for government services and infrastructure.  More detailed budget papers are also developed by the government which set out estimates of expenditure and revenue for the forthcoming financial year.

Almost the entire ACT budget comes from two sources: Commonwealth Government grants and rates paid by ACT residents.

While the budget and appropriation bills are political documents, which represent the priorities of the government of the day, just like all other bills only the Assembly can approve an appropriation bill.

Estimates committee

Each year a select committee on estimates is established to inquire into and examine the government’s budget and the associated appropriation bills.

The committee usually consists of five members drawn from the government, opposition and crossbench. The committee conducts public hearings where members are able to question ministers and senior officials from government directorates and agencies about particular expenditure and revenue proposals contained in the budget.

Modelled on the Senate’s estimates committees, the Assembly estimates process also provides an opportunity for members, particularly from the opposition and crossbench, to scrutinise the performance of the government and its directorates more generally.

The committee produces a report at the end of its inquiry making recommendations to government.

Overview of budget process

1. Community consultation

The government assesses input from the community about the priorities for service delivery and infrastructure spending.

2. Budget formulation

Final decisions about what is included in an annual budget are made by the ACT Executive, sitting as the Budget Committee of Cabinet. In formulating the budget, cabinet will take into account: decisions of the Commonwealth Grants Commission, which is responsible for allocating GST and other Commonwealth funds; the impact of the Commonwealth budget on the affairs of the ACT; advice provided by the Treasury on the economic outlook; advice from the Treasury and other ACT government agencies about service and infrastructure priorities; and any commitments given by the government throughout the year or during an election campaign.

3. Budget presented to the Assembly

The Treasurer presents the appropriation bill (which makes money available for government expenditure) and tables all of the budget papers (containing the budget estimates). The Treasurer will make a budget speech in the Assembly outlining the government’s objectives in handing down the budget. Later in that sitting week, the Leader of the Opposition gives a budget reply speech.

4. Select committee on budget estimates

The details of the budget and the appropriation bills are referred to a select committee on estimates, which is charged with examining proposed revenues and expenditures. Public hearings of the committee provide an opportunity for non-executive members to question ministers and their officials.

5. Debate of the budget

Following the completion of the estimates committee inquiry, the chair of committee presents a report to the Legislative Assembly. The government responds to the committee's recommendations. The budget is then further debated in the chamber.

6. Passage of the budget

The Assembly votes on the appropriation bills. There are two appropriation bills: a general appropriation bill for appropriation of money to all ACT government agencies; and an appropriation bill which covers appropriation for the Offices of the Legislative Assembly, the Auditor-General, the Ombudsman, and the Electoral Commission.

Where a majority of members vote to pass the bills, the government is then able to spend money in line with the budget.

If the government cannot get agreement to its budget and no other group in the Assembly can command majority support to form a government and present an alternative budget, the Assembly may be dissolved and a new election called.

7. Review process

Annual reports and financial statements from government directorates, public authorities, and Territory-owned corporations are referred to relevant standing committees for inquiry and report.

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