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Tuesday, 13 September 2011
Page: 9962

Mr BRADBURY (LindsayParliamentary Secretary to the Treasurer) (20:27): The government does not accept this amendment moved by the member for North Sydney and there are a number of very good reasons why that is the position of the government. I say from the outset that it is important to note that the Parliamentary Service Amendment (Parliamentary Budget Officer) Bill, which is currently before the House, has been the subject of ongoing consultation and a very extensive process, a process that has been expansive in its membership. It has involved a committee process. We had the Joint Select Committee on the Parliamentary Budget Office established to undertake an inquiry around this particular issue. It should be noted that the committee had wide-ranging representation. Indeed, that committee included the member for Sturt as the deputy chair, Senator Joyce and the member for Higgins. It is relevant to note that when that committee handed down its report the recommendations were unanimous. There was not a dissenting report. We now have, through the government's bill, a response from the government that adopts each of those recommendations in full. A series of amendments has been circulated and the member for North Sydney has now moved one amendment. I will address the issues raised by this amendment. The shadow Treasurer has moved an amendment in relation to this motion of allowing the PBO to undertake and to draw upon economic forecasts that would seek to expand the role of the PBO in a way that really does raise questions about what their approach to the PBO is. They seem to want to make this body all things to all people. On the one hand, we have the shadow Treasurer here saying that we should have a body that is drawing upon a range of forecasts. I think that it is appropriate and, indeed, the committee thought it was appropriate that the function of the PBO should be limited to drawing upon those established forecasts but in order to undertake the more specific function of the costings that it will put in place.

If we look at the joint committee and the outcomes of that process, we see that the joint committee in its report addressed this issue. They said:

Given the resource intensive nature of the work and the need to minimise the duplication of work produced elsewhere, the PBO should not be required to produce its own fiscal forecasts. Rather, it should provide analysis of the Government’s fiscal forecasts, commenting on the assumptions, judgements and overall reliability of Government assessments.

Mr Hockey: Why not?

Mr BRADBURY: I hear the member for North Sydney say, 'Why not?' That may well be a question that he should pose to those members of the opposition that were on the committee that participated in the process that was set up and, through that process, supported in a unanimous fashion the recommendations that were brought forward by that committee. The government has adopted those recommendations in full. So, if the member for North Sydney has some concern about the reasoning of the committee, can I suggest that he takes it up with his colleagues before he opens the dirty laundry of the coalition in this place. There are important questions that he might want to bring to the attention of the member for Sturt, Senator Joyce, and also the member for Higgins.

I also make the point that in the questioning throughout the committee process, Stephen Bartos, the former Deputy Secretary of the Department of Finance, noted that it would clearly be a waste of resources for the PBO, or an independent outside body, to try to duplicate the efforts of the Treasury in doing those economic forecasts. He said:

There is a reasonable consensus that duplicating the work of the bureaucracy in preparing economic forecasts would not be a good use of resources; however, many stakeholders do see a valuable role for an independent body in validation of the forecasts and commentary on official fiscal documents.

Simply, I think this shows that the opposition is somewhat confused in terms of what it is now purporting to set out as being the objectives and the mission statement of the PBO. Perhaps it would better suit them if the PBO were not spending its time analysing opposition costings and embarking upon these more wide-ranging pursuits such as forecasting of the sort that they have recommended. The government does not accept or agree to this particular amendment.