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Wednesday, 23 November 2011
Page: 9339

Senator BERNARDI (South Australia) (12:42): In the few minutes I have before this debate on the Parliamentary Service Amendment (Parliamentary Budget Officer) Bill 2011 concludes prior to question time, I would like to reiterate the sense that Senator Ryan just suggested. To those listening to this broadcast: a great many members of the Australian public must be saying, 'Hallelujah! There is some common sense creeping back into the legislative agenda of this parliament.' That is what this bill is about. It is about removing the sticking points and the partisan nature of parliamentary commitments prior to an election so that there can be no dispute about the independence or the veracity of the claims that are made.

It was certainly an initiative of the coalition; that is something to recognise immediately. To the government's credit, they saw that it was a good idea and thought it should be implemented of their own accord. So we have two competing bills. The difference is that the coalition has a purer version of this, a version in which the Parliamentary Budget Office is truly independent and not simply annexed to the coat-tails of Treasury and, subsequently, the government. That is the reason for the excellent amendments to be put forward by Senator Cormann to the government's bill.

There are a number of key differences. I have only a couple of moments, but one of the important differences in the government's position is that the Parliamentary Budget Office will be an extension of the Treasury and the Department of Finance and Deregulation, whereas under the coalition and under our proposed amendments the Parliamentary Budget Office will be an independent statutory body. It will also be able to put forward economic forecasts, as Senator Ryan and Senator Birmingham said earlier. Under the government's policy agenda, it will not be able to do so. It will not be able to offer a competing contrast.

I, like many of the people in this place and many Australians, am somewhat dubious about economic forecasts that are put out to support government positions. I say that based on experience. Almost without fail, they fail to meet the expectations or they fail to be correct. It is often said to me, 'When the Treasury or the government can predict exactly what the surplus or the deficit under this government is going to be then we can accept their forecasts in other areas.' But we know that is not the case because constantly there is paper shuffling and juggling. What I would say is that we need a return to integrity, we need a return to common sense and we need a return to accountability. That can be achieved through the Parliamentary Budget Office, but only if the amendments to be put forward by the coalition are adopted by this government.

Debate interrupted.