Explainer: Budget Estimates

Learn why Budget Estimates are an important part of the political process and help keep governments accountable to taxpayers

(Too busy to read? Check out our 1-minute video explainer)

While Estimates aren’t exactly the most exciting or glamorous political process, they exist to keep the government of the day accountable to taxpayers through the Parliament. This makes them a great example of democracy in action, even despite the political grandstanding! 

Budget Estimates are when government ministers and senior public servants appear before dedicated Parliamentary committees and are asked detailed questions about the budget they put forward that year. Questions typically revolve around which services and programs have or haven’t been included in the budget, and present an opportunity for Parliament to question the actions, decisions and overall effectiveness of government departments and agencies. 

Committee members are a mix of government, opposition, minority and crossbench MPs. Non-government MPs typically come prepared to pepper the government with questions, and don’t hesitate to dig in when inconsistencies appear or when questions are seemingly being dodged. Hearings are live streamed and transcripts published on Parliament websites.

How do Budget Estimates work? 

Budget Estimates are slightly different from the average committee inquiry. There are no submissions and proceedings revolve around the hearings. The exact structure and number of hearings is dependent on the jurisdiction. For example, Federal Budget Estimates are split across eight different committees, who question ministers and public servants within the relevant portfolio. Whereas in Victoria, a singular committee, the Public Accounts and Estimates Committee, is responsible for conducting all of the hearings. 

If a minister or public servant is unable to answer a question posed during the hearing, they are allowed to take the question on notice, and can provide a written response (which is usually due around 3 weeks after the initial hearing).

For the Federal and NSW governments, Estimates aren’t a one and done exercise - subsequent ‘supplementary’ or ‘additional hearings’ usually take place a couple of months after the initial hearings so committee members can ask any follow-up questions about government spending. 

Why should you care about Budget Estimates? 

Budget Estimates can present important insights into politics and the government’s justification for investing in certain areas over others, which is why it’s a good idea to keep track of what’s being said as it relates to your policy areas. 

With proceedings lasting anywhere between 2 to 8 hours, unless you have a large team or dedicated person catching every minute, it’s not always possible to tune in to hearings. That’s where Parliamentary transcripts or tools like Pulse can help you to monitor for key information, regardless of the hearing or portfolio.

Want to see how Pulse can help you track Parliament and Committee activity? Sign up to a free trial today

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