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Tuesday, 30 October 2012
Page: 12501

Ms ROXON (GellibrandAttorney-General and Minister for Emergency Management) (11:33): I would like to thank honourable members for their contributions to the debate on the Freedom of Information Amendment (Parliamentary Budget Office) Bill 2012. The Parliamentary Budget Office is an important new office that has been established to provide members of parliament with independent and non-partisan advice on the budget cycle, fiscal policy and the financial implications of policy processes over the entire course of the three-year electoral cycle.

This marks a significant departure from the previous arrangements, particularly for non-government parties, who previously under the Charter of Budget Honesty Act were only able to have their publicly announced polices costed during the caretaker period. The bill also represents a new service for Independent members of parliament and parties with fewer than five members, who previously had no access to independent costings. A key element of the new arrangements is that outside of the caretaker period for a general election a senator or member can request the Parliamentary Budget Office to provide services on a confidential basis for policy costings.

When it was set up, the Parliamentary Budget Office was made an exempt agency under the Freedom of Information Act of 1982. However, the FOI Act does not currently provide a specific exemption for documents related to requests to the Parliamentary Budget Office that may be held by departments and other agencies. The possibility of public disclosure of the fact that the Parliamentary Budget Office has undertaken work on a confidential request represents a potentially serious barrier to the use of the services of the Parliamentary Budget Office by senators and members. This bill amends the FOI Act to provide an exemption for information held by departments and agencies that relates to a confidential request to the Parliamentary Budget Office.

The amendments will protect the confidentiality of the work of the Parliamentary Budget Office and will ensure that it operates as intended, with the parliament expressly exempting the Parliamentary Budget Office from the FOI Act. I welcome the opposition's support for this bill and commend it to the House.

Question agreed to.

Bill read a second time.