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Monday, 18 March 2013
Page: 2473


Mr STEPHEN JONES (Throsby) (11:42): The question before the House this morning is whether the September 2013 election should be contested around policy rather than personality, whether it is a contest around facts or fantasy and whether it is a contest around ideas or cant. We have heard a lot of cant in the debate this morning. In fact, you know it is Monday morning when the member for Mayo is going off like a Catherine wheel. There is more ecstasy over there than in an inner-city dance party. But the fact is that there is an important issue at stake here—that is, should the people of Australia, when they cast their ballots in September 2013, have all the facts before them about the contesting ideas, the contesting policies, of the two main parties that go into this election?

We know that oppositions are sometimes at a disadvantage when it comes to having their election policies costed. They do not have the same opportunities available as a government would to ensure that, from budget to budget, their policies are costed and scrutinised in the normal way that any government would. Oppositions are at a disadvantage. So, to ensure that we have a fair contest at the election, this government has put in place the Parliamentary Budget Office. The purpose of the Parliamentary Budget Office is to ensure that opposition parties, Independents, crossbenchers and minor parties have available to them expert, independent assistance in costing their policies so that, when there is an election, there is the capacity for the Australian people to look at and judge the competing policy prescriptions of both parties, based on independent costings.

Of course, there is some history in this country about election contests being fought out on great claims about the costings and savings that are available to opposition parties which are contesting the election, only to find, in the course of the campaign or after the campaign, that those costings are nothing more than a house of cards. In the 2010 election, for example, the opposition was making great claims about the savings that they had been able to find and that their policies had been fully costed and were able to be delivered, only for it to be discovered days after the election that there was an $11 billion hole in their costings. The so-called independent auditors that they had go over their costs have subsequently been significantly discredited.

There is a history in this country of oppositions not being forthcoming and fully frank with the electorate when it comes to having their policies fully costed. That is why we have set up the Parliamentary Budget Office to ensure that we do not do that.

The opposition has made great noise over the last couple of months about the importance of transparency in costings. We have had the member for North Sydney tell the Australian people that if the coalition are elected to office then he will be mandating a report on structural deficits—something that I actually welcome. I think that would be a welcome addition to the annual reporting of our national finances. They want to ensure that we have structural deficit reports but are not willing to use the facilities of the Parliamentary Budget Office and come clean with the costings that lie behind their policies.

We know there is good reason for that. We know that there is a $70 billion black hole within their election costings, on their own admission. And we see over the last 24 hours that one of the think tanks which is advising the Liberal Party has come up with a range of proposed savings, including cancelling the NDIS; abolishing Fair Work Australia and Safe Work Australia; cutting the general research budget by 40 per cent; cutting the Commonwealth housing program; cutting foreign aid; excluding emergency aid; and abolishing all agricultural, forestry and fishery programs. These are just a range of the savings. If these are the propositions that are being put by the opposition in the lead-up to the budget, they should come clean. They have told us that all of their policies are fully costed and ready to go; well, come clean with the costings.