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Monday, 19 September 2011
Page: 10522


Mr BRIGGS (Mayo) (17:10): I wanted to just address a couple of issues which were raised earlier, particularly one raised by the member for Denison who said, in one of his cheap shots, as the member for Goldstein described, about doing work now in preparation for the next election campaign to avoid the release of confidential information which you would be familiar with. Budgets change. Numbers change quite substantially over a period of time, so much so that the government of the day's numbers change between the mid-year budget review and the final outcome. In fact, we do not know what the final outcome of the budget was last year, because the revenue numbers change and the parameters you work with change.

If you understood the Commonwealth budget and how budgeting works, member for Denison, you would understand that you cannot do a costing now for a tax cut you might want in two years time for an election campaign. Guess who does not do that themselves? The executive. So, in your view, it is okay for the executive to have that right to test their policies to get it right but not for the opposition or in fact yourself. That is completely illogical, but we should not be surprised, I guess. It is as logical as attacking any public servant appointed by John Howard but then getting outraged if anyone raises questions about current public servants. It is a completely illogical position. It is all right to slander the former Prime Minister, but if it is anyone in this place it is a great outrage. Hypocrite—absolute hypocrite.

I go back to the issues raised by the member for Lyne. I point this out to him: in the questions he raised to the parliamentary secretary, who did not answer those questions, he did not point to the sections but said, 'There is nothing which will stop it.' I thought that was a fascinating answer for the third question you raised. I put this to you, member for Lyne: 64B of the bill says:

Purpose of Parliamentary Budget Office

The purpose of the Parliamentary Budget Office—

I am reading from the bill—

is to inform the Parliament by providing, in accordance with this Division, independent and non-partisan analysis of the budget cycle, fiscal policy and the financial implications of proposals.

It then directly rules that out when in 64E2 it says:

The Parliamentary Budget Officer's functions under subsection (1) do not include:

(a) preparing economic forecasts; or

(b) preparing budget estimates

Give me a break. This is an absolute sell-out of this policy. If you want to go through the history, you do not own this. In fact, this was owned by the coalition who proposed this in the budget in reply, but that is not the point. If we want good outcomes in this place, if you want the parliament to work properly, as you say—and I take you at your word on that—this is a really good reform if you make some changes. What they are proposing is a halfway house.

It is the same as when the Labor Party opposed the Charter of Budget Honesty in 1996. We do not take these people on trust. They opposed the Charter of Budget Honesty in 1996 because they completely politicised the process in 1995 and 1996. The member for Denison probably forgets that. It might have been one of his hazy periods. They completely politicised the budget process in that time, and that is why, when the Howard government came to power, there was a $10 billion black hole in the budget. That is how the Charter of Budget Honesty came about.

This is our proposal from when the member for Wentworth was the Leader of the Opposition. It is a good proposal, with some improvements, including making it genuinely independent to give it the power to make its own forecasts. You know what: the Treasury is not always right. They would say to you themselves that they are not always right. It is economic forecasting. Access Economics does it. Lots of people do it. Lots of people on the internet do it these days. It should be a contested thing. We should have the right to improve policies in this place and get decent and genuinely independent access to information, including forecasts. This is a good amendment. It is not about playing politics; it is improving what is decent reform in this place.