Evidence of meeting #38 for Government Operations and Estimates in the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was budget.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

  • David McGee  New Zealand's Parliamentary Ombudsman, As an Individual
  • Harry Evans  Former Clerk of the Australian Senate, As an Individual

4:45 p.m.

Conservative

Mike Wallace Burlington, ON

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

Thank you, Mr. Evans, for joining us today.

I have four or five questions, and I'm going to go fairly quickly.

Your estimates are presented on a program basis. Here they're on an aggregate basis. They are just straight numbers across the board. There's very little about each program.

If a program crosses departmental lines—for example, human resources helps pay for something, but other departments do too—is it indicated in the information provided to the committee who is actually responsible for that program and where all the parts are?

4:50 p.m.

Former Clerk of the Australian Senate, As an Individual

Harry Evans

Yes, certainly. That's spelled out in the explanatory notes. And both departments can be called on to explain those particular programs. It's a good way of checking, of course, and cross-comparing on the program.

4:50 p.m.

Conservative

Mike Wallace Burlington, ON

If the committee is the human resources committee, which I'll use as an example, but other departments are also doing work, that committee can call that bureaucratic staff to come and talk to that committee about it. Is that correct?

4:50 p.m.

Former Clerk of the Australian Senate, As an Individual

Harry Evans

Oh yes, certainly. And committees can arrange between themselves which committee is going to deal with a particular program that is spread across departments.

4:50 p.m.

Conservative

Mike Wallace Burlington, ON

I'm assuming that the presentation talks about what the program was designed to do and what the outcome is. It's not just a matter of the financial accounting. If it's trying to meet some sort of social goal or whatever the goal might be, that's included in the program review. It's not just that we were able to spend x dollars with this many people.

Am I right about that?

4:50 p.m.

Former Clerk of the Australian Senate, As an Individual

Harry Evans

Yes, exactly. It talks about the aims and the effective use of the program and whether it's achieving its aims.

I should say that program budgeting is not the term used now for budgeting, but people still talk about programs or projects in departments.

4:50 p.m.

Conservative

Mike Wallace Burlington, ON

Are the actual numbers for the estimates presented on an accrual basis or on a cash basis?

4:50 p.m.

Former Clerk of the Australian Senate, As an Individual

Harry Evans

They are on an accrual basis.

4:50 p.m.

Conservative

Mike Wallace Burlington, ON

We have a system here, sir, that if a committee doesn't look at their estimates, they're deemed approved. They go back to the House for a vote to be approved. Is that a possibility in Australia? If your committee doesn't have a chance to look at the estimates that have been presented, what happens to them? Or do they have to look at them?

4:50 p.m.

Former Clerk of the Australian Senate, As an Individual

Harry Evans

Well, they don't necessarily look at all departments and all programs. Sometimes a department will be passed over without questioning, because there's nothing there the committee wishes to examine. That's pretty rare.

Most departments get a run, but the committees sometimes feel that they don't have enough time to deal with particular things. They report that to the Senate. Basically, that's taken up at the next round of estimates hearings. At the supplementary hearings or the additional estimates hearings, they're taken up again. But the committees have no power to approve or not approve the estimates. They simply report to the Senate on matters they're interested in. It's up to the Senate to actually pass the appropriation bills.

4:50 p.m.

Conservative

Mike Wallace Burlington, ON

This is my final question. Our schedule is that we can present a budget at any time, technically, but normally our year starts April 1. We had our budget last week, for example. The main estimates that were presented didn't reflect any of the changes that were in the budget, because there just wasn't time for that.

Is there a lapse of time between when the budget is presented and the estimates of the actual spending that is to occur in the new fiscal year? Does that happen in Australia? Is there a timeframe for them to catch up?

How big are the supplementary estimates? We have at least three here in a fiscal year. We're trying to see if we can reduce the number of supplementaries and have the mains actually reflect what's in the budget, if that's possible.

What happens in Australia?

4:50 p.m.

Former Clerk of the Australian Senate, As an Individual

Harry Evans

Well, the financial year starts July 1. The main appropriation bills and the estimates are presented in May, and the estimates hearings take place in May. The additional estimates come in in February, and then you get the additional estimates hearings. Basically, that's it, but sometimes governments introduce additional appropriation bills outside that program. In that case, the Senate has, on occasion, authorized additional estimates hearings, especially estimates hearings on those additional appropriation bills.

I should say that the appropriation bills are only about 10% of government expenditure. Most government expenditure is contained in special appropriations, which are scattered through a large number of statutes on the statute books. When the main appropriation bills come in, these explanatory notes on the departments cover all the departmental expenditure, not just the expenditure in the appropriation bills.

4:50 p.m.

Conservative

Mike Wallace Burlington, ON

Thank you, sir.

4:50 p.m.

NDP

The Chair Pat Martin

Thank you, Mike. You made very good use of your five minutes there.

Next, for the Liberal Party, is John McCallum. You have five minutes, John.

4:55 p.m.

Liberal

John McCallum Markham—Unionville, ON

Thank you.

Thank you, Mr. Evans.

My questions are a little similar to Mike Wallace's.

Are all the measures contained in the budget included in the main estimates?