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Tuesday, 30 October 2012
Page: 12498


Mr PERRETT (Moreton) (11:23): I rise to speak to the Freedom of Information Amendment (Parliamentary Budget Office) Bill 2012 and particularly commend the member for Throsby on his contribution to the debate. I know he has a long history with this, because of his time with the CPSU, who would have covered many of the members who deal with freedom of information requests. So his words, particularly on the conclusive certificates, were particularly useful, and I will not go over the information he put forward in his speech.

Freedom of information is crucial for good government. That is the reality of a modern democracy. And I say this as a member of the Labor Party: I am passionate about democracy. Whilst I wear a Labor Party hat and am proud to be part of the Labor caucus, my faith and belief in democracy transcends that. FOI laws, which can be traced back to the Hawke-Keating time, are a particularly Labor initiative in terms of embracing the transparency that comes with good government. I say that as someone who comes from Queensland, where Premier Wayne Goss was instrumental in bringing dramatic transformation of the Queensland approach to the public service, and FOI is an important part of that.

Unfortunately I grew up in a time when Joh Bjelke-Petersen had a very cavalier approach to democracy. We had the gerrymander; we had infringement of civil rights; we had a very closed-shop approach to what democracy was. Sadly, today, in Queensland we have drifted back to some of those bad old days of Joh Bjelke-Petersen. However, the bill in front of us is about amending the Freedom of Information Act 1982, the Commonwealth legislation to protect the confidentiality of documents held by agencies in relation to the confidential requests made to the independent Parliamentary Budget Office.

The Parliamentary Budget Office is not far from where I am standing now. I think it is about a sand wedge away in golf terms. It would be good for those on the other side of the chamber to acquaint themselves with how close it is, a short walk. It would be great for them to commit upfront to taking their policy documents, when they are taken out of the bottom drawer that Andrew Robb referred to—

The SPEAKER: The member for Moreton will refer to people by their appropriate titles and return to the bill.

Mr PERRETT: The Victorian member of parliament whose electorate escapes me—

The SPEAKER: The member for Goldstein.

Mr PERRETT: When the member for Goldstein pulls those folders out of his bottom drawer, it would be great for them to take them over to the PBO to have some fair dinkum costings. I ran in the 2004 election and I remember one of the key issues in my electorate, the electorate I now represent, was about the Medicare safety net.

Mr Tony Smith: Mark Latham, was it?

Mr PERRETT: Mark Latham was the leader; that is correct. I remember the health minister at the time, the member for Warringah, going on Four Corners giving the rock solid, ironclad guarantee that the Medicare safety net would be a key part of that parliament. The election was on 9 October. By March the next year, the Medicare safety net—that rock solid, ironclad guarantee—was ripped away. Of course, as a responsible minister, he followed the Westminster tradition and fell on his sword and resigned from the Howard ministry—of course not!

The SPEAKER: The member for Moreton will return to the bill before the chair.

Mr PERRETT: I was pointing out for those opposite where the PBO is just in case they did want to visit it and acquaint themselves with the process—

Mr Billson interjecting

Mr PERRETT: Not interested? It is close by anyway. Obviously the PBO is currently an exempt agency under the FOI Act. However, the FOI Act does not provide specific exemption for documents relating to PBO requests that may be held by departments and other agencies. As a result, requests for information made to agencies by the PBO and information provided to the PBO by agencies may not be protected. So perhaps this has been a reason why the opposition have not been prepared to take their policies over there to be costed. In order to avoid any chance that that would put them off, the bill before us will enhance the integrity of the independent PBO processes. Essentially the bill will further protect the confidentiality of the Parliamentary Budget Office's work and will strengthen Australia's fiscal and budget frameworks. This means that MPs can now be confident that the PBO will give independent and protected advice on the budget and financial proposals that they put forward to the people.

I have great faith in the independence of Australia's public servants and in Queensland public servants. I do not just say that because I am married to one of those public servants in Queensland, who has worked for a variety of state governments over the last 22 years. She served the National Party government under Joh Bjelke-Petersen, she served Wayne Goss, she served Rob Borbidge—and I think I have left off a National Party premier or two in between there—and also Peter Beattie, Anna Bligh and now Campbell Newman. Like every public servant, she does not serve a party; she serves the public. She gives advice. She acts independently and makes the decisions that are in the best interests of the public. I would hope that my premier in Queensland would recognise that public servants do have that great facility to be smart and clever and give frank and fearless advice and serve the state or the nation.

Sadly, we have nearly 14,000 Queenslanders lose their jobs in the context of 26,000 Queenslanders losing their jobs since Campbell Newman became Premier. It is not a good time to be looking for work in Queensland, sadly. Naturally, the bill before the chamber raises this question: when will the shadow Treasurer come clean and show the Australian public how he intends to fund his $70 billion black hole, which was exposed after the last election? He came clean the other day by indicating that he is going to rip off Australian families and get rid of the schoolkids bonus, even though we are about to give payments out in January to all of the parents in my electorate. The shadow Treasurer said this on Lateline on 23 October: 'So we've also previously said we're going to abolish the schoolkids bonus. It's on the record that we're not going to proceed with the schoolkids bonus.' That will be a horrible situation for the families in my electorate in January. They would not receive a payment if the member for North Sydney were in power. He is saying, 'No schoolkids bonus.'

The Liberal Party and the National Party are yet again showing their true colours, promising to cut payments that assist local families with the costs of putting their kids through school. Without the schoolkids bonus, a typical family in Moreton putting two kids through school would lose more than $15,000 over the course of their children's education. The schoolkids bonus means every local family on family tax benefit part A will receive $410 a year for primary school kids and $820 a year for kids in secondary school.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Hon. BC Scott ): Order! Member for Moreton, I am struggling to get a connection between your words and the bill before the chamber, the Freedom of Information Amendment (Parliamentary Budget Office) Bill 2012. I would ask you to come back to the bill before the chamber.

Mr PERRETT: Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker. Obviously, this is about funding election policies and how the Parliamentary Budget Office would accurately assess those. They will be able to do it independently by not being subject to scrutiny under freedom of information legislation. I know that you were not sitting in the chair when I started this wonderful discourse, Mr Deputy Speaker. But I am happy to take you to the Hansard later on. I will return to the legislation in front of us.

Obviously, the legislation before the chamber is about increasing the protection for and privacy of any request made of the Parliamentary Budget Office, whether it is by the Greens, by Independent members, by the Liberal Party or by the National Party. It is about making sure that there is good government. It will make sure that if you have a policy such as a parental leave scheme—and maybe you have not consulted with your caucus about it because you seek forgiveness for rather than consultation on such a policy—where you are giving parental leave to people earning $150,000 a year, you can have that policy looked at by the Parliamentary Budget Office and know that the costings and advice given by that office will not be subject to FOI, even if it is a Coles and Woolies tax, for example. This legislation will make sure that we have good and honest government. I commend the bill to the House.