THE president of the upper house, Liberal MP Bruce Atkinson, has suggested the Baillieu government could be deliberately trying to avoid scrutiny by cutting funds to State Parliament.
In a speech obtained by The Sunday Age, Mr Atkinson has warned that parliamentary investigations, broadcasts and building maintenance could be affected after an estimated $5.5 million was cut from Parliament's bottom line.
''Funding cuts affect not just the scrutiny directed at the executive, but also the accessibility and transparency of the entire parliamentary process, '' Mr Atkinson said.
The Victorian Parliament currently has about 20 bipartisan committees, which conduct inquiries across a range of areas, from education and law reform, to regional development or the rules of the house.
But in his speech, delivered at a recent conference of parliamentary officers and clerks, Mr Atkinson said committees ''pose a certain political danger'' for governments, because ''any committee inquiry carries some implicit evaluation of its activities''.
Therefore, he said, it was in the government's ''best interest to limit and restrict this scrutiny, whether to hide deliberate misconduct, avoid political embarrassment, or simply circumvent procedural inconvenience''.
Mr Atkinson told the conference: ''The work of parliamentary committees has been severely compromised. In the face of limited or simply uncertain funding, committees must restrict the number of references they take on and commit far fewer resources than they do. Whether by deliberate strategy or simply unintended consequences, the current funding system allows the executive to determine the degree of scrutiny to which it is subjected.''
Mr Atkinson made the speech in the Solomon Islands last month in his capacity as upper house president, but he is also a Liberal MP for the eastern metropolitan region. He declined to comment when contacted by The Sunday Age, but in his speech, he also:
■ Hit out at the way Parliament is funded, whereby operating funds are ''doled out'' by the government, and then ''confiscated'' at the end of the financial year and cannot be used without the approval of Treasurer Kim Wells.
■ Revealed infrastructure upgrades and broadcasts of parliamentary proceedings, such as question time, could be a ''potential casualty'' of the government's funding cuts.
■ Criticised the government for committing to events on Parliament's behalf (for instance, regional sittings of Parliament) without providing the necessary funding.
The Opposition scrutiny-of-government spokesman, Martin Pakula, accused the government of having an ''obsession with secrecy''. But government spokeswoman Kathryn McFarlane said: ''The Victorian taxpayer funded the Parliament $126 million this year. The presiding officers including the president and the Speaker are responsible for determining funding priorities.''