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Tuesday, 20 September 2011
Page: 10927

Mr ROBB (Goldstein) (22:58): The whole purpose of this bill is that there be an independent authority which does the costings for both sides of politics in an election period. We want to see honest and open and transparent policy calculations during an election period. There are many questions which these particular amendments raise. We have already asked five or six quite deliberate questions. The parliamentary secretary was silenced by the Leader of the House last night. The parliamentary secretary through many hours of debate has been mute, except for his snide remarks to his colleagues, because he has been silenced by the Leader of the House.

We need to know with regard to these provisions whether the government's policies will be costed by the Parliamentary Budget Office during the caretaker period. That is question No. 8 that the parliamentary secretary has yet to answer. Will they?

Mr Bradbury interjecting

Mr ROBB: You are here to provide answers to questions. That is the nature of this session.

The SPEAKER: Order! The member for Goldstein will address his remarks through the chair. He will ignore the interjections, and the parliamentary secretary will not interject.

Mr ROBB: In this provision of the bill, as soon as we release or announce any policy for submission to the Parliamentary Budget Office, those costings are automatically released. If we have a situation where we have two policies to consider, this provision requires the costings of both of those alternatives to be released without us having the opportunity to make a decision about which policy we would prefer.

We face a situation where we are denied, during the caretaker period, the opportunity to have costed various alternative policies that we might be considering. The costings have to be automatically released. In other words, this provision of the Parliamentary Budget Office bill means that the provisions during the caretaker period will be absolutely no different to those we experienced during the last election. They will be no different to that which we experienced under the Charter of Budget Honesty. What we will have is another dogfight for 33 days, instead of a debate about the policy. This is what the government have intended by the way in which they have corrupted the intention of this bill. We looked for honesty, transparency and integrity.

Mr Pyne: Mr Speaker, I rise on a point of order.

Honourable members interjecting

The SPEAKER: I thank the House for silence on both sides. The member for Sturt will resume his seat. I will not be lectured by anybody when both sides of the chamber are in uproar. I have attempted to give an indication that the member for Goldstein has the call. He should be heard in silence by both sides.

Mr ROBB: The point I was seeking to make—which was a prelude to more questions which I suspect will again not be answered—is that the way this bill has now been structured and misrepresented from the original intent means that there will be no difference in the caretaker period from what we experienced last time, which was an almighty dogfight and a politicisation of the process of costings by the government of the day. We have seen a bill which has now been— (Time expired)

Mr Pyne: Mr Speaker, I seek to make a point of order. You have asked the chamber to come to quietude so that the member for Goldstein can continue his remarks. There are members sitting outside their usual seats who are heckling and jeering the member for Goldstein. I know that this is a late hour—it is five minutes past 11—but the member for Goldstein is making a very important point. So I do not want to lecture you, but—

The SPEAKER: The member for Sturt will resume his seat. Members who wish to conference can do so outside; if they have made a decision to remain in the chamber they will do so quietly. There are approximately 130 of you out of your places; you could be done as a job lot.

Government members interjecting

Mr ROBB: If you all keep your mouths shut then we might get something done.

Government members interjecting

The SPEAKER: Order! I would suggest that those members who cannot listen in silence leave the chamber and come back at some stage. The member for Goldstein has the call.

Mr ROBB: I think some others have too! I am nearly as mute as the parliamentary secretary opposite me! We have spent several hours here tonight asking a lot of legitimate and serious questions, none of which have been answered because the Leader of the House came down here last night and said to the parliamentary secretary, 'This is not question time; you do not have to answer any questions.'

'The MOU offers options for recourse by the officer should the requested information not be provided.' In regard to this provision in the bill, if the Parliamentary Budget Office requires information and it is not covered by the memorandum of understanding, I would like to know from the parliamentary secretary, firstly, is there a requirement for the Parliamentary Budget Office to carry out an FOI? How will that apply when the period of grace is 28 days within a 33-day period of the caretaker provisions?

Mr Bradbury: You've got the wrong amendment.

Mr ROBB: This is the right amendment.

The SPEAKER: The parliamentary secretary is not assisting. The member for Goldstein has the call.

Mr ROBB: I would like to know: during this caretaker period, what opportunity does the Parliamentary Budget Office have to seek additional information without the provision of an FOI? Secondly, if there are options for recourse, what are those options for recourse? The bill is silent, vague, open ended and discretionary in regard to that recourse item, which means again we will face politicisation of this process. Last time we were subjected to the politicisation of this process, so much so that the secretaries of departments were brought in and used by this government to politicise the process and to in fact mislead the Independents in this House, who subsequently took a decision to go with the Labor Party to form government—much of that predicated on the misuse of the Charter of Budget Honesty. As a consequence, we requested this bill some years ago.

This bill has been prepared by the government under duress. They have now misrepresented in almost every provision of this bill the original intent of this bill. This bill will again lead to a dogfight over the 33 days of the campaign, where there will be nothing more or nothing less than accusations going from both sides of politics about the costings, the veracity of the costings and the inability of the Parliamentary Budget Office to acquire information and about our inability to keep material confidential until we wish to release it.

This is an appalling situation where the government has totally bastardised this bill to the point where it cannot be trusted. There is no trust associated with this bill. That is the problem with this situation. There will be no trust. You can pass this bill tonight—you can get this through—but there will be no trust. As a consequence, when we come to the next election and the issue of costings is presented, there will be no trust on either side of politics. There will be another dogfight. Policies will not be discussed according to their merits. We will see another debacle, which means that government could hinge on the result of the politicisation of this process of costing—this process that should be above politics.

We should be able to have confidence in an authority that does the costing for both sides of politics independently so that we can put that aside and debate the merits of the policies. But here tonight we have a man who has been silenced for hours—who has made an absolute spectacle of himself because of the orders of the Leader of the House. (Time expired)

The SPEAKER: Before calling the member for Mackellar, I advise that Aldo Giurgola, as the architect, had lobbies provided in this building—and just outside the chamber. I suggest that those members who cannot contain themselves should make use of those lobbies. Those who are interested in the debate should remain here and do so silently.