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Wednesday, 23 November 2011
Page: 9319

Senator FAULKNER (New South Wales) (11:11): It would come as a real surprise to anyone listening to this debate—that is, if there is anyone listening after Senator Joyce's contribution—to realise that this is a second reading debate on the Parliamentary Service Amendment (Parliamentary Budget Officer) Bill 2011. I am going to break with the precedent of Senator Joyce and actually address the legislation that is before the chamber.

After the last election, an agreement for a better parliament—parliamentary reform—was negotiated between the political parties and Independent members of the House of Representatives. That agreement included commitments about the resources of the parliament, including the establishment of a Parliamentary Budget Office. I share with the chamber the wording of the agreement:

A Parliamentary Budget Office be established based in the Parliamentary Library to provide independent costings, fiscal analysis and research to all members of parliament, especially non-government members.

It goes on:

The structure, resourcing and protocols for such an office be the subject of a decision by a special committee of the parliament which is truly representative of the parliament.

That agreement stands in the names of Mr Christopher Pyne MP, Mr Anthony Albanese MP and Mr Rob Oakeshott MP.

To progress the commitment in the agreement to establish a special committee of the parliament, a Joint Select Committee on the Parliamentary Budget Office was established. I chaired that committee. The Deputy Chair of the committee was Mr Pyne. The committee members represented the Australian Labor Party, the Liberal Party of Australia, the National Party and the Australian Greens. Mr Oakeshott, an Independent in the House of Representatives, also served on the committee. Unusually for such a parliamentary exercise, that joint select committee brought down a unanimous report in March this year. Twenty-eight recommendations of the report were agreed to by each and every member of that joint select committee.

Senator Milne: It was a consensus.

Senator FAULKNER: Senator Milne comments, correctly, that it was a consensus. It was a unanimous report. In July, the government responded to the joint select committee's report. Of the committee's 28 recommendations, all were accepted; 23 were agreed and five were agreed to in principle. The government had announced in its budget this year that it would provide $24.9 million over four years to establish the Parliamentary Budget Office. In late August this bill was introduced into the House of Representatives, embracing the commit¬≠ments contained in the agreement for a better parliament—parliamentary reform—and the recommendations of the Joint Select Committee on the PBO. Now the legislation is opposed by the coalition. It is really no wonder that people become cynical about politics and politicians.

Senator Ian Macdonald: Yes, when you promise not to introduce a tax and then introduce it.

Senator FAULKNER: Let us look at the record. We know that you are a particularly divisive force in the chamber, Senator Macdonald, and you appear to have a great deal to say—most of it nonsense. But as far as the establishment of a PBO is concerned, let us run through the record. Here is the record. Mr Turnbull, when he was Leader of the Opposition, advocated for the establishment of such a PBO in his budget reply in 2009. Mr Abbott, as Leader of the Opposition, renewed Mr Turnbull's call for a PBO and included the establishment of a PBO in his election platform for last year. Former Liberal senator Guy Barnett introduced a private senator's bill into this chamber, the Parliamentary Budget Office Bill 2010, again to establish a PBO. The coalition signed a broad cross-party agreement after the 2010 election which included a commitment to a PBO. The coalition agreed to the establishment of a joint select committee. The coalition served on that joint select committee, including representatives at a senior level: the Leader of the National Party in the Senate and the Manager of Opposition Business in the House of Representatives, Mr Pyne, who was the deputy chair of the committee.

The Liberal Party provided a submission to the joint select committee. The committee brought down a unanimous report embracing the letter and the spirit of the Liberal Party submission to that committee. The government, I believe acting in absolute good faith, agreed with the joint select committee's recommendations. The government then funded the Parliamentary Budget Office in this year's budget and the government then introduced enabling legislation for the establishment of the PBO into the parliament. That is the legislation we are debating today.

This is not or should not be a partisan measure. It will work in the interests of all parties in this parliament. This legislation does not in any way offend the critical values of enhancing transparency of process, of ensuring the principle of equity of access to PBO services and of maintaining the separation of the parliament and the executive. This is very good legislation. I believe that the processes leading up to the introduction of this legislation have also been in accordance with parliamentary best practice.

So where do we find ourselves now? Well, the shadow Treasurer, Mr Hockey, informed the House of Representatives on 12 September that 'the coalition would not submit its policy costing to either the Treasury or the PBO prior to the election'. He said, 'We will ask the Australian people to form a view on policies as they stand.' This approach is not in anyone's interests. It is certainly not in the interests of the opposition. Do not forget that the Treasury found an $11 billion hole in the costings of the policies that Mr Hockey and the coalition presented at the last election. How could it be in the interests of a serious opposition to turn its back on the policy development assistance provided by a PBO and the costing resources that are provided by a PBO? That is a service to the parliament that is independent and a service to the parliament that is rigorous. It is a service that would be absolutely confidential outside election periods and fully transparent, as it should be, during election campaign periods.

In my view, the opposition is acting against its own interests, it is acting against the public interest and it is acting against the national interest by opposing this bill and turning its back on the services offered by an independent Parliamentary Budget Office. I will make a prediction in this chamber—and I have a very good record as far as the predictions I make in the chamber go—

Senator Ian Macdonald: In your opinion.

Senator FAULKNER: I do. I have a very good record. Just look at the predictions I made about the fate of a few Liberal Party ministers. All of them came to pass. I do not make many predictions, but I am going to make another one; let's see if it comes true, Senator Macdonald. I predict that it is the opposition that will suffer most as a result of the decision it is taking in the parliament this week to oppose this bill. It is an absolutely inexplicable and wilful decision that the coalition is making—an attitude that is absolutely unable to be sustained or explained, an attitude and approach of not submitting costings to the PBO. I predict that in the next election campaign, just like in the last one, the opposition will inevitably face the charge that its election campaign policy costings lack credibility. That is what you are doing by taking this approach. Inevitably, the opposition's motivations in doing so will be questioned—and they should be, in my view. The opposition's approach to this bill means that this is a bad day for parliamentary integrity. The opposition's approach on this bill means that this is a bad day for integrity in politics.