SECTION 2. ACCOUNTABILITY MECHANISMS – PROBLEMS & OPPORTUNITIES FOR REFORM
4. PARLIAMENTARY CONTROL OF MONEY – THE REASON WE ARE A DEMOCRACY
Parliament has the sole power to raise money and to authorise its expenditure for the good of citizens. Because no government could subsist without money, the British Parliament secured two further powers that allowed it to hold governments to account. The first is a power to make and break governments by requiring that governments secure the confidence of the lower house in order to govern. The second, is a power to scrutinise government expenditure of money and hold ministers accountable for the expenditure of the people’s money for the purposes that justified its appropriation. These powers were built into parliamentary systems around the world – including Australia’s.
This fundamental principle is being eroded by a number of high profile cases. Under the recent Sports Rorts, money was spent without authority. Under Robodebt, money was demanded from welfare recipients without legal authority. Many of the appropriations are put in very general terms, the Treasurer is allocated huge discretionary funds and there is a growing figure of ‘decisions made and not announced.’[i]
The secretive appropriation of funds in this covert manner is increasingly used by each major party in government, leading to the perception of an unholy conspiracy between them to the ultimate harm to good government and merit-based allocations of resources
[i] See article by Michael Pascoe on Josh Frydenberg’s $3.8 billion in the 2021 budget. https://thenewdaily.com.au/finance/2021/07/27/michael-pascoe-election-budget/
Parliamentary Oversight and Control of Appropriations: Parliament should exercise its powers over money bills during consideration of the budget process. It should demand sufficient detail to understand the public benefit that justifies entrusting those funds to the relevant minister and require the government to propose a clarifying amendment or alternatively consider an amendment deleting the undisclosed item. Where the use of funds is relatively novel, separate legislation should be required.