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Monday, 19 September 2011
Page: 10529

Mr BILLSON (Dunkley) (17:36): To reiterate a point the shadow Treasurer made, the saviour that the parliamentary secretary sought to offer was the prospect of an elusive MOU. We have established that we are handcuffed to the Treasurer's numbers. The only time we get a clear run at Treasury numbers is during the election period, when there is no confidentiality. I am grateful that it was not necessary for me to hand over the bill, but now we are relying on the provision that relates to the memorandum. I can just imagine a department secretary saying: 'Look, I've had this approach from the Parliamentary Budget Office. It's been so hollowed out by the parliament because the executive doesn't want it actually doing what parliamentary budget offices do in other jurisdictions, and now there's a memorandum of understanding.' Does anyone—particularly the Independents—think for one minute that an MOU will trump the legislation of the parliament? Does anyone think that will happen? Does anyone think that the department—the Treasury officials—will sit there and say, 'Look, I know there's been this express wish of the parliament, as reflected in the legislation.'

The parliamentary secretary has rolled out all of these spurious and incredibly unpersuasive arguments about why it is in the national interest to nobble the Parliamentary Budget Office before it even starts. Then Treasury officials say, 'Well, there is scope for us to enter into an MOU.' Do you think for one minute that that MOU will go anywhere further? Of course it will not. It may even be more restrictive than what the parliament said. It might even say: 'Now that you're nobbled to the Treasurer's numbers and PEFO, we don't even want you to be critical of those; that's under the MOU.' The MOU might say, 'You can't criticise any of the pre-election data or challenge any of the economic foundations in the forecasts, so, on the basis of the MOU, we will provide you with that material only so long as you are completely respectful and not in any way contradicting what the Treasury—or in this case the Treasurer—has had to say,' or the MOU might simply go down to: 'Would you like it on an Excel spreadsheet? Can we send it electronically? How quickly would you like it? If it happens to be late on a Friday night, is Monday okay?' Come on, Parliamentary Secretary! We know you are a lightweight in the Treasury portfolio, but do not tell the parliament or try to reassure the Independents that this completely empty, vacuous argument you put up has anything to do with the substantive issues that we are debating here.

The MOU will add nothing to this debate. It risks actually constraining further the information that is available. If it goes to information at all, it will not touch on any of the assumptions, any of the modelling or any of the various parameters that have been set and selected. It will not go to that; it will actually be more focused on the process of obtaining the already constrained information. The executive is hell-bent on making sure that only its view of the economic world and forecast ever sees the light of day.

I go back to where this started, the PBO—pretty bleeding obvious! They are trying to take the heart out of this, deny it to the Independents and deny it the respect that the Parliamentary Budget Officer deserves—and that is to satisfy himself or herself on what should be the basis of calculations that he or she is undertaking. That should be what is available here, and for the parliamentary secretary to come up and say, 'Hey, the MOU's the answer for everything,' is just utter, utter nonsense.