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Tuesday, 28 October 1997
Page: 8254


Senator MURRAY(6.13 p.m.) —I move:

(1)   Clause 3, page 2 (lines 3 and 4), omit subclause (2), substitute:

   (2)   Parts 7 and 8 of the Charter of Budget Honesty create rights and duties that are enforceable in judicial or other proceedings.

The issue of enforceability of the bill as a whole has been decided upon but I move this amendment as an alternative to that proposed by the Democrats in the first instance. I particularly look forward to Senator Margetts's response since she had a view of the bill as a whole which might not extend to parts 7 and 8 of the bill, which are affected by this amendment.

I hope the opposition will understand this to be an amendment that takes account of and accords with some of the concerns expressed by the coalition and various sides of the house in the earlier debate. The amendment will have the effect of making pre-election reports on the fiscal and economic outlook and policy costings enforceable in judicial and other proceedings. At the moment, under the current legislation, the non-publication of these reports and costings could not be subject to judicial or similar proceedings. Unlike the other parts to this bill, parts 7 and 8, which are proposed to be enforceable under this amendment, are clearly separate from any executive power of the Commonwealth to follow whatever fiscal strategy it deems necessary.

What the coalition have been saying, in their earlier arguments against making the bill as a whole enforceable, is that that would make very difficult their ability to have a flexible approach—and I am paraphrasing my interpretation of what you said—in terms of overall fiscal strategy. What I am proposing with this amendment is that only the fiscal reporting requirements and pre-election costings aspects of the bill be made enforceable in judicial or other proceedings. If you return to the bill, those are the sections covered from pages 17 to 24.

Parts 7 and 8 do not impact on the discretion of the executive government, in caretaker mode, to run the national economy. One of the government's strong arguments for not making the bill as a whole enforceable, as it is in New Zealand, was that they felt that their discretion would be improperly interfered with. I do not accept that argument, but I accept that I lost the vote in the Senate. I am now attending to areas where the bureaucrats and others are obliged to perform in terms of this bill.

I am not aware—and perhaps the Senate can acquaint me with the possibility—of any bill which is not enforceable. I have never seen one. Maybe there are some but I am certainly not aware of them. This bill is unique.

I would like those sections capable of enforceability to be made so. As it stands, this bill is overly protective of the executive government at the expense of the parliament and the public. By accepting this amendment, in place of the one which I proposed earlier covering the whole bill, the government would be reinforcing its commitment to the electorate to improve fiscal accountability. At the same time, it would not be encroaching, in any way, on the ability and constitutional right and precedent of the executive government to run the national economy as it saw fit.

I challenge the government—I do not hold my breath, because they tend to reject good ideas as well as bad—to take up this opportunity to demonstrate to the Australian electorate just how serious they are about the right of the electorate to be informed about fiscal and economic outlooks and policy costings, so much so that there is the ability for that outlook and policy to be enforceable with regard to pre-election outlooks in part 7 and costing of election commitments in part 8. This is about making sure there is real honesty and real commitment in this bill and about improving the trust of the electorate in government, politicians and the parliament.

I would draw your attention to the areas excluded: part 1, purpose and overview; part 2, interpretation; part 3, principles of sound fiscal management; part 4, fiscal strategy statement; part 5, annual government reporting; and part 6, intergenerational report. Those would remain unenforceable. We believe those are the areas where the government has expressed its need to exercise discretion. Part 7 and part 8 merely relate to the functionality, if you like, of producing the intention of the bill. Accordingly, I commend this amendment to the Senate.