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Wednesday, 23 November 2011
Page: 9321


Senator IAN MACDONALD (Queensland) (11:25): I follow on from where Senator Faulkner left off. He is talking about integrity in politics! How about this for integrity? A day before the last election the Leader of the Australian Labor Party gets up, hand on heart, and swears and promises to the people of Australia, 'There will be no carbon tax under a government I lead.' Within three or four months she has changed her view completely. Here we are, one year later, with a government that she is leading—for the moment—and with the carbon tax she promised never to introduce. And Senator Faulkner deigns to lecture us about integrity in politics!

The thing I can say about Senator Faulkner's speech—and I congratulate him for it—is that he just did a 20-minute filibuster which will continue to deprive the opposition of the ability to debate, scrutinise and hold the government accountable not only for the Parliamentary Service Amendment (Parliamentary Budget Officer) Bill 2011 but for another five bills that are going to be rammed through this parliament today without a word of debate. As we have seen in the last two days—and this is a disgrace and a condemnation of the Australian Labor Party and the Greens—there have been nine bills, I think, passed in this chamber with not one word of debate. Because of a guillotine by the Greens and the Australian Labor Party, there have been nine bills passed through this parliament with not one word of debate on them. We are going to see the same today and we are going to see the same tomorrow. And the Australian Labor Party still tries to pretend that it is a democratic party. The only democratic Labor Party member in this chamber is the representative of the DLP, who at least understands that you cannot ram legislation through this chamber without even one person having the opportunity to speak on it and to hold the government accountable.

I am looking forward to the support of the Greens for the amendments that have been foreshadowed by Senator Cormann and which the coalition will be moving to make the Parliamentary Budget Office the way it should be—truly independent and truly able to perform its duties as a Parliamentary Budget Office. Those amendments that Senator Cormann has foreshadowed and that will be moved by him on behalf of the coalition will make the process that is set up under this bill proper. They will make it independent, they will make it confidential and they will make it useful, and they should make this a bill that will attract Greens support. In spite of Senator Milne's speech earlier—which seems to have been written for her by the Labor Party—I remind her that on 23 September Lenore Taylor and Peter Martin reported:

The Greens have offered to amend legislation setting up a parliamentary budget office to avoid a boycott threatened by the Coalition when it failed to secure changes in the lower house.

So I look forward to your support, Senator Milne. Perhaps I should look forward to the amendments you might be going to move? You have not flagged that you are going to be moving amendments. I assume from that that perhaps you have lost your enthusiasm for making this Parliamentary Budget Office proper, independent and confidential.

What happened in the last couple of months that might have made the Greens political party change its mind, I am not quite sure. Perhaps it was just another one of those dirty, dodgy deals which seem to be being done by the Greens and the Australian Labor Party every day. We heard on the news this morning that the Greens and the Labor Party had done a deal to get the mining tax through the other chamber. Nobody knows what the deal is. It is not being revealed to the Australian people—certainly not to the Australian parliament. Nobody will be able to scrutinise it. They might release some details next week, after the parliament has risen for the parliamentary recess of two or three months.

Listeners may recall that, when Ms Gillard became Prime Minister this last time, it was to be 'a whole new paradigm'. Remember the words? A whole new paradigm of accountability and openness and everybody understanding what was happening. Yet, last night, what do we get? A dirty, dodgy, midnight deal between the Greens and the Labor Party to get through a mining tax which is actually going to cost the budget bottom line. The way this government operates is just a shambles. You only have to talk to any member of the public to understand what a shambles this is and why Australia is currently lacking any confidence whatsoever.

I see Senator Waters sitting there. Perhaps she will be participating in this debate and perhaps she will be alerting the Senate to the amendment the Greens said they were going to move to make this bill and the process more appropriate. Quite contrary to what Senator Faulkner filibustered about in his 15 or so minutes, the coalition actually supports a proper Parliamentary Budget Office. In fact it was the coalition's initiative; it was an initiative which the coalition took to the last election. It was part of our policy and it is still part of our policy. Senator Faulkner quite rightly mentioned that the coalition actually introduced a private member's bill to set up the Parliamentary Budget Office. Was it supported by the Labor Party? Was it supported by the Greens political party? It was an election commitment. We brought it forward as we said we would. We brought it to this parliament, with no support from the Greens and no support from the Australian Labor Party. Yet suddenly they bring in this watered-down version which they know will not work, which they know will not be accepted and which even the Greens have said needs amendment. So I certainly look forward to the amendments.

I appreciate the fact that Senator Cormann has been through the bill at some length and has indicated the coalition's position on it. I acknowledge that Senator Cormann will be moving the coalition's amendments and more explicitly detailing them in the Committee of the Whole, but I will briefly touch on a couple of the proposed amendments. The current bill, the bill before this chamber, relates to functions of the Parliamentary Budget Officer. Item 16 of schedule 1 precludes the Parliamentary Budget Officer from preparing economic forecasts or preparing budget estimates—it actually precludes him from doing that. Proposed section 64E states that the Parliamentary Budget Officer 'must use the economic forecasts and parameters and fiscal estimates' contained in the most relevant recent economic reports. These proposed provisions essentially constrain the Parliamentary Budget Office to using only the 'official' economic and budget forecasts in its work. They would seem to constrain it from undertaking any independent assessment or analysis of the economic or fiscal impacts of policy proposals. They would also seem to prevent it from preparing longer run economic or budgetary projections beyond the period of the forward estimates. These proposed sections seem to be at odds with the purpose of the Parliamentary Budget Officer as outlined in proposed section 64B, which states that the purpose of the Parliamentary Budget Officer is to provide independent analysis of the budget cycle, fiscal policy and the financial implications of proposals. So Senator Cormann will later be moving amendments to those clauses to give the Parliamentary Budget Office the power to prepare its own economic forecasts and budget estimates or to have regard to existing forecasts or budget estimates as it sees fit. That will allow the Parliamentary Budget Office to fully meet its objective of providing truly independent analysis of fiscal policy and the financial implications of proposals.

There are seven amendments to be moved by Senator Cormann and, as I mentioned, he will detail those later. But I will just to refer to another provision about confidentiality. We want to make it clear what information can be publicly released by the Parliamentary Budget Office in the normal course of its duties and what information cannot be released without the explicit direction of the senator or member who has put up the proposal being costed. These amendments will allow the office to get on with its job of publishing independent analysis of the budget cycle and fiscal policy whilst preserving that confidentiality of costing information on policy proposals from MPs and senators that is so essential if this arrangement is going to work. It is essential that the Parliamentary Budget Office be able to accept proposals from senators and members, to cost them, while keeping them confidential to the senator or member. The senator or member can then have a look at the costings and might well say: 'I thought that was a good idea. Now that I see from this independent office what it is going to cost, perhaps I am not going to proceed with the idea because it is outside the budget parameter I was anticipating.' That is why these things have to be confidential until such time as they are announced as the policy and then, of course, the costings are made public. What could be fairer than that?

The way the Greens and the Labor Party want to handle this is that, if you have an idea and you take it to the Parliamentary Budget Office and say, 'Cost this,' you immediately see the costings on the finance department's website. Even if you then decide, 'Because of the costs related to it, I am not now going to proceed,' it will still be there. You can imagine with the dishonesty of the Labor Party and the way they go on—and we never expect any honesty from the Greens—that all sorts of deliberately wrong assumptions will be made. That is why the private member's bill that we put up, our policy announcement—and, I repeat, we thought of this first—and our amendments show that this has to be a confidential arrangement until such time as they become policy issues and then are released to the public.

People say, 'Why wouldn't you trust the Australian Labor Party and their advisers?' I repeat: why would anyone in Australia trust a government whose leader promised before the last election never to introduce a carbon tax and, immediately she was elected, introduced that carbon tax? Why would you believe anything the Labor Party or the Greens say about any budgetary matter?

I heard Senator Faulkner talking about costs of government and fiscal responsibility. I remind Senator Faulkner that in 1996—when the last Labor government was thrown out on its ear—the then Labor Prime Minister promised us that everything was okay with the budget, that it was balanced. But, when we got into power at the 1996 election, the first thing we discovered was that we had been lied to, that there was actually a $10 billion deficit in that year alone, in 1996. There had been figures of debt bandied around but the true figures had been kept from the Australian people. We found that the last Australian Labor Party government had run up a total debt of some $96 billion. If the Labor Party were running a business—and they never would because none of their people have ever been in business; they have only ever been union hacks or Labor Party functionaries and would not understand business—they would have been declared bankrupt. Then the new government led by John Howard and Peter Costello came in and, over a space of eight tough years, paid off Labor's $96 billion debt and, more than that, through sound financial management and good economic judgment the Howard government actually put aside $60 billion for the future rainy day. It took the Rudd government less than two years to blow the $60 billion credit we had set aside and to run us into debt and deficit. Now here we are just four years later with a gross government debt of over $200 billion. We have a net government debt of over $107 billion. Obviously, it will be left to the next coalition government to start paying off Labor's profligacy yet again.

Labor simply cannot be trusted with money. They cannot be trusted with the Parliamentary Budget Office. They cannot be trusted with the parliamentary process. And the Labor Party and the Greens have just introduced a carbon tax, which they promised would never be introduced, and what do we find? As a result of this carbon tax, our carbon emissions are going to go up by 2020. We are going to be emitting more carbon and we are going to have this huge carbon tax which will increase everybody's costs of living and make electricity prices soar. That is the sort of financial management you get from the Labor Party and the Greens.

Last night the House of Representatives passed the mining tax, which is going to increase the deficit on the bottom line of the budget. How is that for great financial management? The Labor Party are the only party in the world that could introduce a tax which, in the end, means we are worse off. That is typical of Labor Party mismanage­ment of funds.

This initiative of the coalition for the Parliamentary Budget Office is a good one and with the amendments the coalition propose this will be a good addition. I look forward to the Greens support for our amendments because the Greens said publicly that they would support sensible amendments that would make this bill proper and they would sign on to it. We know how hypocritical the Greens political party are. We know how they say one thing one day and another thing another day. We hear them railing against the multinational miners. Then we have a look at the flood tax imposed by this parliament earlier this year. Who paid the flood tax? Individuals. Did BHP, did Rio Tinto, did Xstrata, did Coles or Woolworths?

No. The Greens let those big multinational companies that they now rail against off the hook. They gave them a free ride. Yet here they are doing dirty deals with the Labor Party at midnight to get that stupid tax through the other place.

This Parliamentary Budget Office with the coalition's amendment will be a real plus. It will be a real positive for the whole parliamentary and election processes that will bring some fairness, openness and accountability into the system—something we promised before and something we tried to introduce via a private member's bill that neither Labor nor the Greens supported. It is something that we hope we will achieve today if, as I anticipate, the Greens will support our amendments.