21 March 2024

Chief Minister accused of 'cooking the books' during debate on mid-year budget review legislation

| Claire Fenwicke
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Peter Cain MLA.

Assistant Shadow Treasurer Peter Cain had to withdraw his accusations that the Chief Minister was ‘cooking the books’ in the mid-year budget review. Photo: Thomas Lucraft.

The Territory’s Chief Minister and Treasurer Andrew Barr has been accused of “cooking the books” to hide the “real state” of the ACT’s economic and fiscal position.

Legislative Assembly members debated the mid-year budget review legislation on Wednesday (20 March), with Assistant Shadow Treasurer Peter Cain accusing Mr Barr of using a number of “tricky accounting measures” in the papers.

“[He’s used these to] avoid scrutiny, hiding key information in the back pages of the budget papers … and others have been altered so that numbers don’t seem as bad, and other information is blatantly misleading,” he said.

“It’s the old cooking the books trick.”

Mr Cain’s comment was called on a point of order, and he withdrew it after Speaker Joy Burch said it could infer “unwanted and irregular behaviour” by an MLA.

He pressed on stating the mid-year budget review, announced last month, was a “deceptive presentation” of the Territory’s “true state”, and pointed to Mr Barr’s own financial objectives which had been outlined in the 2013/14 budget.

These include that “temporary deficits must only occur if they are offset by surpluses at other times”, that the government should aim to maintain operating at a cash surplus, and to maintain a AAA credit rating (which was downgraded to AA+ earlier this year).

“Across all key balance sheet metrics, the ACT has declined significantly since 13/14,” Mr Cain said.

“This budget review would be a failure if released in 2013/14.”

Mr Cain said his party couldn’t vote in favour of the legislation supporting the review, as it would make present and future Canberrans “worse off”.

“The Canberra Liberals cannot support incompetence, a deceptive presentation of figures, and a budget position that has seen a significant decline while Labor-Greens have been in control.”

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Mr Cain also pointed to recommendations made by the Public Accounts Committee inquiry into the mid-year budget review.

It made nine recommendations, which he said included calling for the numbers to be presented how they were reported in 2013/14.

Committee inquiry member and ACT Greens backbencher Andrew Braddock was quick to state he felt Mr Cain was misrepresenting the recommendations.

“It does not seek to replace the current reporting framework with the UPF [Uniform Presentation Framework],” he said.

Chief Minister Andrew Barr.

Chief Minister Andrew Barr hit back at the claims, accusing the Canberra Liberals of opposing the legislation for ‘opposition’s sake’. Photo: Thomas Lucraft.

Mr Barr did not specifically go after Mr Cain’s comments, instead attacking the intentions behind the Canberra Liberals’ lack of support for the legislation.

Not only does it include revised investment for projects in a number of areas – such as health, education and public transport – but also pay rises across the public sector.

Mr Barr said that by opposing the legislation, Mr Cain was “putting on the record” the Canberra Liberals’ opposition to the delivery of public housing, continued investment in the second PACER team, investment in major infrastructure, and public servant pay rises.

“How you vote on Appropriation Bills [such as this] is a matter of quite significant public interest,” he said.

“The Canberra Liberals have confirmed that they are now voting against the pay rises to every single ACT public servant whose pay rises are supported in this second appropriation.

“Opposition for opposition’s sake from the Canberra Liberals, the same approach they have taken throughout this century: more negativity, more personal attacks on me, being the sole focus of their contribution.”

Mr Barr said this showed the Opposition’s election strategy would be to “fire shots” at him from its “far right-wing trench” rather than providing positive suggestions or policies.

“As we look towards the election, Canberrans will have a choice, a choice between a government that will invest in them and their future, or an Opposition who will cut, slash and burn.”

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The Appropriation (Office of the Legislative Assembly) Bill 2023-2024 was up for debate straight after, which is specifically about pay rises for officers of the Assembly and workers in the Legislative Assembly building and directorates.

This received the support from all parties.

Mr Barr said it was interesting the Canberra Liberals were supportive of pay rises for these specific public servants.

“I wonder what the rest of the ACT public sector has done to offend the Liberals, that they can’t vote for their pay rise, but they will vote for this one,” he said.

“Quite extraordinary.”

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Sooner or later Barr will get his followers to build a pyramid for himself… and they will do it.

Instead of employing reasoning the labor party sucumbs to characer assassination.

Groundhog Day – Jack D running his protection racket on every article remotely critical of the Labor Government that has been in power longer than Putin.

HiddenDragon8:35 pm 21 Mar 24

Last month, we were told that ACT government borrowings will grow by an average of about $1.25 billion per year over the four financial years to 2026-27 and that this reflected “the government’s long-term infrastructure program” –


The clear implication of that claim, taken at face value, is that if the costs of “long term infrastructure” (however that might be defined) are netted out, the ACT budget would be in balance over the forward estimates, with no need to borrow to cover the costs of ongoing service delivery, short(er) term infrastructure and maintenance.

Given the track record of this government over many years, that is a highly questionable claim and the Liberals might to better to focus on that point rather than engaging in esoteric debates about accounting and budget practices – the fiscal details that the government has admitted to are quite bad enough.

There is a very good reason that the roles of Treasurer and Chief Minister are usually held by different people. It’s called good governance. The same reason that the CEO is not the same person as the Chief Financial Officer. Independent oversight is essential to ensure good decision-making.

I can’t wait for the October election to see this old fool voted out. Elected on the slimmest of margins at the 2020 election, Mr Cain has been out of government and out of sorts ever since. That Thomas Lucraft photo above sums up perfectly Peter Cain’s attitude to the government and those he disagrees with. Snarling away on the sidelines, using parliamentary privilege to make all sorts of wild and defamatory accusations against Labor and Greens MLA’s and going into hiding when challenged to back his allegations up. Mr Cain’s increasingly bizarre behaviour saw him recently forced to apologise to the assembly when two committees, established just to investigate his inappropriate behaviour, found him guilty of breaching the parliamentary code of ethics.

Mr Cain spends most of his time out in the electorate, knocking on doors, toadying up to those in the multicultural community, taking selfies with voters just to shore up his slim chances of re-election at this year’s election. If not knocking on doors he is slavishly cosying up to lobbyists in the gambling and building industries who contribute so much to Liberal party coffers.

Mr Cain is a very active supporter and member of far-right religious and fringe lobby groups including Advance and right to life. He recently used his parliamentary Facebook page to reply to right wing media in the Murdoch press supporting commentary undermining our parliament and calling for an end to self-government in the ACT. He also supported dumped deputy leader Jeremy Hanson in lobbying the party’s federal senators to interfere and trample Territory laws and undermine our elected government to do its job.

Roll on Territory election!

ACT Government called put for their poor financial management and objectively worsening budget position for the Territory.

Jack D: “but whatabout theeee Liberallllllsssssss”.

Repeat. Ad Nauseum.

Here we go again, chewy14 sticking his head up for the angry Canberra Liberal mob. The most conservative and unsuccessful division of the party in the country. The party has no policies except to snipe from the sidelines in the hope that they will win a few extra votes from ignoramuses like chewy. 15 men and only 10 women were preselected for this year’s election. Candidates were drawn from the most socially and culturally conservative backgrounds the Canberra Liberals have ever put forward in an election that I can remember.

The Canberra Liberals are in such a dire situation that some of the candidates are returning having stood for the party and lost badly in previous ACT, federal and state elections. Just in my electorate of Kurrajong alone we have one Liberal candidate who ran for the party at the last federal election and was so confused he did not even know whether his family lived Canberra or NSW. Another candidate is closely aligned with far-right politics, Jeremy Hanson and lobby group Advance’s’ corrosive and divisive politics. He vigorously lobbied with them and the Young Liberals for the No vote in the Voice referendum and has actively undermined Elizabeth Lee’s leadership.

Groundhog day and another Territory election with more sniping, division and a predicted loss for the Canberra Liberals.

Unfortunately it is Canberra voters who are the losers!

“Here we go again.”

Yes Jack, that’s the point.

You are a broken record who never offers actual critique or insight into any article involving politics, you just rant about your dislike of the local Liberals. It’s pointless.

Once again though, your last sentence could not be any truer with the current dearth of talent in government. Perhaps you should focus on the actual people in charge some more and maybe then we’d see some improvements.

Ray Polglaze8:46 pm 21 Mar 24

Jack D provides an extended example of the “Ad Hominem Fallacy” which the Ethics Centre defines as “Ad hominem, Latin for ‘to the man’, is when an argument is rebutted by attacking the person making it rather than the argument itself”.

Jack D responds to the issues raised by Cain with an extended attack on Cain and the Liberal Party. He does not address the arguments raised by Cain. Jack D does not present any arguments against Cain’s claims that the Mid-Year Budget Review is misleading or that Barr is failing to achieve the claimed objectives of cash surpluses and maintaining the AAA credit rating.

Is it possible that Jack D is unable to dispute the accuracy of Cain’s claims and so is attempting to deflect attention from these claims by attacking the bearer of uncomfortable truth?

I look forward to Peter Cain walking the few metres outside the assembly doors from the chamber into the courtyard and repeating these same accusations to the media and posting it to his Facebook page Ray Polglaze. If Mr Cain has proof of these most serious crimes that the chief minister has been “cooking the books” to hide the “real state” of the ACT’s economic and fiscal position or any other misdeeds he should immediately contact the relevant government authorities for a full and transparent investigation. But we won’t see that will we Ray Polglaze because Mr Cain is not that type of man, regularly using parliamentary privilege to make defamatory and unsubstantiated claims against the CM and government ministers. But true to form, Mr Cain is unwilling and unable to produce any evidence to substantiate these accusations when challenged!

Also, the Labor-Greens parliamentary agreements of 2008, 2012, and 2016 included the statement –

“The parties confirm their commitment to fiscal responsibility and the maintenance of a balanced budget through the economic cycle.”

Labor-Greens have broken a core commitment they made to each other and made to the people.

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