When the House resumes on Tuesday 2 August, the Government intends to commence the Estimates debate. This is an 8-hour debate on the Government’s spending plans for the financial year (the ‘Estimates’). The Budget process involves scrutiny of the Estimates and, ultimately, their approval by Parliament through the passing of the main Appropriation Bill for the year—the Appropriation (2011/12 Estimates) Bill. The Estimates are a key mechanism for ensuring parliamentary oversight of the spending of public money.
The Estimates are arranged into ‘Votes’, which correspond to ministerial portfolios—for example, Vote Education, Vote Health, Vote Internal Affairs. After the Budget they were scrutinised by select committees, which heard evidence from Ministers and departmental officials, received advice from the Auditor-General, and reported to the House on issues raised. Select committee reports on the Estimates are published on this website.
Now that select committees have reported on the Estimates, the Estimates debate can proceed. Technically speaking, the debate is the committee of the Whole House stage of the main Appropriation Bill. When a bill is considered ‘in Committee’, some rules of debate differ from those that normally apply in the House—for example, a member may speak more than once in a debate.
During the Estimates debate, the committee of the whole House considers each Vote in turn, in order of the seniority of the Minister responsible. Once any debate on a Vote is completed, the committee decides whether the Vote should “stand part” (be approved), and then moves on to the next Vote. At the end of the total time permitted for the debate, the Votes that have not been reached and the provisions of the bill are put as one question without further debate.
Once the Estimates debate is finished, the main Appropriation Bill is set down for its third reading, a further 3-hour debate on another day. This final phase in the Budget process for this year must be completed by 19 August, 3 months after the main Appropriation Bill was introduced on Budget Day.