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Tuesday, 20 September 2011
Page: 10887


Mr BRIGGS (Mayo) (19:45): It is a surprise to be speaking on this bill this evening. I heard the Parliamentary Secretary to the Treasurer speaking this afternoon on his more favoured topic of boats and getting on boats. So I am surprised that he has brought this bill, the Parliamentary Service Amendment (Parliamentary Budget Officer) Bill 2011, back at this hour this evening without much notice.

This is another important amendment that the member for North Sydney has moved. It is an amendment which seeks to give the Parliamentary Budget Office real power to access information from departments about the numbers and the programs—information which oppositions and Independent members need. The Independent members obviously did not get the note that this was being brought on this evening either, because I know the member for Lyne would be here otherwise. We are sending a message to the member for Lyne, if he is listening: this is back on. They have brought it back on tonight, Rob. You might want to get down here and speak to this.

This amendment provides another opportunity to strengthen the Parliamentary Budget Office and to achieve its genuine purpose. The purpose of the Parliamentary Budget Office is at 64B—to remind the Parliamentary Secretary to the Treasurer. It is in front of you there, David. It reads:

The purpose of the Parliamentary Budget Office 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.

Independent non-partisan analysis of the budget cycle would require, as the member for North Sydney has outlined very well in this amendment, that the PBO get access to information from departments. This really gets to the issue of how you would cost policies if you were in opposition and you were looking to do something in an election campaign and you were lucky enough to be elected. You want to have the best information and the Australian public would want us to have the best information available to us. This bill provides for halfway-house information. It relies on the department agreeing to what it is going to give up.

No department wants its information to be genuinely tested by another source. We all know that in this place. Bureaucrats do a good job and they work hard, but they do not like to be told that they are not necessarily right with their information. They do not like it when Access Economics tells them that they are wrong. I remember during my time in the former government that there used to be quite loud explosions when Access Economics used to question the numbers that Treasury would produce, for instance. Not that Treasury is ever wrong we learnt the other evening. You cannot ever question Treasury's numbers. Even though they do not always get them right, you cannot question these numbers, according to the government.

The Parliamentary Budget Office should be an independent agency, just like the United States Congressional Budget Office. I looked today at the Congressional Budget Office website and all the services they provide for members of the congress and the United States public. There is an enormous amount of resources there about the spending patterns of government, the behaviour of departments and the amount of debt. That really gets to the point that the government are trying to avoid here. They do not like people knowing how much in debt we actually are. It is very hard to find that information. If you go to the Treasury website today I challenge you, Madam Deputy Speaker, to find very quickly how much debt there is that the Australian government currently owns. It is certainly not one click away; whereas it is actually on the front page of the Congressional Budget Office website. They tell you what the deficit is, because they are a genuinely independent agency which is providing independent advice.

The aim of the PBO—and the parliamentary secretary is presumably getting briefed about that right now—is to give a non-partisan analysis of the budget cycle and of the fiscal policy implications of the proposals. Parliamentary Secretary, this leads to better policy and better outcomes, leading, say, to a policy about border protection prior to an election—going to a place, visiting the boats, the Customs patrol vessels, and seeing how they operate; maybe even getting on them and letting a TV camera come on and watch you get on them; putting on the hat like the first mate; and enjoying the visit but also understanding how much that costs. That is the idea of the Parliamentary Budget Office, Parliamentary Secretary, and if you increase the power of the Parliamentary Budget Office to get this information—

Mr Bradbury interjecting

Mr BRIGGS: The parliamentary secretary does not like the reference to his time out on the Customs patrol vessel. I thought you looked really good out there, David! I think it is actually a potential next career—

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Ms S Bird ): Order! The member will not involve the speaker, nor call the speaker by the wrong name.

Mr BRIGGS: I am sorry, Madam Acting Deputy President. It was just outside his electorate of Lindsay, of course—6,000 kilometres outside his electorate! In any event, this is another good amendment that the parliamentary secretary should adopt. If you can ring Swannie and get the instruction to do so that would be good. (Time expired)