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Health and Community Services Complaints (Budget Report) Amendment Bill

Second Reading

Adjourned debate on second reading

(Continued from 22 March 2016)

The Hon. J.A. DARLEY ( 17:53 :42 ): This is a fairly simple bill which seeks to repeal section 15 of the Health and Community Services Complaints Act. Section 15 simply outlines that the commissioner must submit the budget proposal to the Economic and Finance Committee annually. This bill will repeal this section and erase this requirement.

When researching this bill, my office went back through the historical Hansard to try to find a reason as to why this clause was inserted in the first place. It seems odd that the parliament would have inserted this provision into the act without good reason, especially as it is unique only to the Health and Community Services Complaints Commissioner and does not apply to any other statutory office. If the minister could provide any insight into why this provision was introduced in the first place, I would be happy to hear it.

In terms of the commission's budget itself, when examining the commission's annual reports over the past few years, it seems that the commission has been operating at a surplus—almost $45,000 for the 2014-15 financial year and $21,000 for the 2013-14 financial year. However, there is a note in the 2014-15 annual report which indicates that the HCSCC has a separate budget for the Crown Solicitor's Office which cannot be reallocated away from legal advice and represents the majority of underexpended funds.

For the 2014-15 financial year, the Crown Solicitor's budget was $79,000, almost double that of the previous year, where $39,000 was allocated for legal advice. I am curious as to how the budget for legal advice is set as, at the time of preparing the budget, it would have been impossible to foreshadow the dramatic increase in complaints lodged with the HCSCC from the 2013-14 to the 2014-15 financial year. Given the tenfold increase in complaints lodged, I am surprised that more money was not expended on legal advice.

Further to this, the number of staff at the HCSCC also did not increase even though the number of complaints that the HCSCC investigated more than doubled. I will be interested to see if the HCSCC's budget will increase in the future. I understand it is the sort of question that the Economic and Finance Committee would examine when they were presented with the HCSCC's budget proposal. I am curious to receive more information as to why the parliament felt that this provision was necessary when the bill was first introduced.

I also ask the minister to provide details on how many times, if any, the Economic and Finance Committee disagreed with the HCSCC's budget submission and, if there were circumstances where the Economic and Finance Committee disagreed, the reasons why and how the matter was resolved. Whilst I support the second reading of the bill, I reserve my final position until more information is provided.

The Hon. I.K. HUNTER (Minister for Sustainability, Environment and Conservation, Minister for Water and the River Murray, Minister for Climate Change) ( 17:57 :03 ): I would like to thank the Hon. Mr Wade and the Hon. Mr Darley for their contributions on this debate and for their indications of support. I look forward to the swift passage of the bill.

Bill read a second time.

Committee Stage

In committee.

Clause 1.

The Hon. I.K. HUNTER: The Hon. Mr Darley asked a question of me in relation to any information that I might have about why this clause that is to be deleted was first inserted. My advice is that it was inserted as a means of compromise in a deadlock committee consideration of the legislation. Subsequently, as we have learned, the provision really has done no work of any great use and, indeed, I think the commissioner himself has said he supported the rescission of the clause because it is, in fact, impossible for him to actually put into practice.

The Hon. Mr Darley also asked me, I think, how many times the Economic and Finance Committee takes issue with any of the reports of the commissioner, so I will just seek some advice about that. My advice is there have been no situations that have been advised back to the department, so no situations that I know of.

Clause passed.

Remaining clauses (2 and 3) and title passed