24 Jun 2020

Checking the estimates

From The House , 6:55 pm on 24 June 2020

Dozens of Select Committee hearings are held at Parliament (or around the country) every week. They hear petitions, consider bills and sometimes carry out their own inquiries. 

But at this time of year they are heavy with Estimates Hearings. That’s when committees call in government ministers to query them about their budget plans. 

Estimates hearings are the Select Committee phase in getting the government’s budget agreed to by Parliament. Because the budget is actually a piece of legislation and is debated and considered much like any other bill.

Melissa Lee is watched by her National collegues as she asks questions in committee

Melissa Lee is watched by her National colleagues as she asks questions of Grant Robertson in an Estimates hearing Photo: ©VNP / Phil Smith

But for the budget the select committee phase is carried out by all of the committees at once, each covering their own areas of expertise.

It ranges across everything that governments do from the functioning of Parliament to children’s participation in community sport.

Among the many hearings this week The House reported on the Social Services Committee’s consideration of Vote Sport and Recreation. 

The Minister of which is Grant Robertson, who is also the Minister of Finance so you can presume he knows his own budget. 

Estimates hearings can be rigorous, feisty, inquisitorial, and sometimes even brutal; but they are also less predictably antagonistic than similar interactions might be in the debating chamber. 

In Select Committees MPs tend to be a fair bit more relaxed, a bit more collegial and even discussing something they disagree on, they often share jokes. 

They may be opponents but funny is funny. Members of the Social Services committee enjoy a joke with Minister of Finance Grant Robertson

They may be opponents but funny is funny. Members of the Social Services committee enjoy a joke with Minister of Finance Grant Robertson Photo: ©VNP / Phil Smith

The recurring theme through all of this year’s hearings (as it was the focus of the budget is the immense spending concentrated on Covid management and recovery. 

But there were hundreds of other things in the budget as well. For example during the consideration of Vote Sports and Recreation Grant Robertson discussed the focus this year on programmes and events to support greater participation by women and girls in sport.  

Grant Robertson drew attention to various specific community level programmes as well as coming international events the Women’s Cricket World Cup, Women’s Rugby World Cup and (if New Zealand is fortunate - the FIFA decision to be announced on Friday) the Women’s Soccer World Cup (in partnership with Australia).