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Tuesday, 20 September 2011
Page: 10899


Mr BRIGGS (Mayo) (20:38): Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker Scott. I will continue with my contribution about this, because the member for Goldstein raised a very important point in relation to the powers of the Parliamentary Budget Office to get information from the relevant departments—in fact, he raised an extremely important point about how quickly you can get that information and what is ruled out, particularly when it comes to FOI.

I can speak from some experience on this matter, because in recent times I have been sending in quite a number of FOIs and I can tell you that the rules in relation to the timing of FOIs are very rarely met, which is the point of the question that the member for Goldstein asked the Parliamentary Secretary to the Treasurer. The member for Goldstein deserves an answer to that question in this debate. The question was a very pertinent one—and never mind the the 28-day time line to respond to questions on FOI; if they are not even being met, what guarantee can the parliamentary secretary offer in this debate that the information will be provided to the Parliamentary Budget Office in a timely manner to ensure that opposition members, or indeed Independent members of the parliament, are able to ask and get legitimate questions answered prior to or during an election campaign? The parliamentary secretary should answer that question. That is exactly the point the member for Goldstein was making.

Last night in this debate—Mr Deputy Speaker, you will remember—the parliamentary secretary redefined the reasons for the Parliamentary Budget Office. In response to the first amendment that we moved, he said that the Parliamentary Budget Office was ostensibly about having a comparison of election costings during the election campaign. He referred to an article in a newspaper from an economic commentator. But that is actually not the purpose of the Parliamentary Budget Office; the Parliamentary Budget Office is not designed to become a plaything of the government to use as an election tool in a campaign environment. What it is meant to do is improve the quality of the debate.

The future Labor Party president, who is in the chamber, would understand that we are meant to be part of and engaging in genuine debate about costings and about policy, to assist the opposition the Independent members of the parliament, and even the Greens, to come up with fiscally responsible policies which can be implemented in government. It is not about using it as an election tool for a government of the day to belt up the opposition or Independent members, or even the Greens, about their policies, which is what the parliamentary secretary said last night. So this second amendment and the questions that the member for Goldstein rightly asked—and it might be a laughing matter for some—are genuine issues about the independence and the ability of the Parliamentary Budget Office to get information from departments prior to and during election campaigns. It is about giving reasonable advice to members of parliament—not over a long period of time and not with MOUs which rule out specific material which can be provided and expected to be undertaken in FOIs.

The member for Goldstein asks legitimate questions; the parliamentary secretary is hell-bent on ignoring those questions, under instructions from the Leader of the House no doubt. It is appalling that this debate—which is an important debate, an important reform—many members of parliament have spoken about how important this reform is. We on this side of the House asked for this reform three or four budgets ago now, when the member for Wentworth was the Leader of the Opposition. This is an important reform; the Independent members of the House think so. The parliamentary secretary thinks it is of such little importance that he will not even answer a legitimate question from the member for Goldstein; he is not interested in engaging in this debate; he should stand up now and give this House a guarantee that the Parliamentary Budget Office will be able to get genuine information from departments under these MOUs. We do not think they will; that is why we are moving this amendment.

It is up to you, Parliamentary Secretary, the ball is in your court. If you are any good at this, you will be able to explain how this will work. You will be able to guarantee in this place how this will work. This amendment will be either through your words of assurance in answer to the member for Goldstein's legitimate questions or through passing this amendment, which we hope, because it will add to the strength of what will be a good reform in this place. You should engage, Parliamentary Secretary Bradbury, in this debate. You should stand up and answer those questions this instant.