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Finance and Public Administration Legislation Committee
18/11/2013
Estimates
PARLIAMENTARY DEPARTMENTS
Parliamentary Budget Office

Parliamentary Budget Office

[09:38]

CHAIR: Welcome. I thank the Parliamentary Budget Office for providing the committee with updated information on PBO costings, statistics and staffing data. Mr Bowen, I understand you wish to make an opening statement.

Senator WONG: Are you able to table that statement?

Mr Bowen : Yes, Senator Wong, I have got 10 copies here for the committee.

CHAIR: Thank you, Mr Bowen; please proceed with your opening statement.

Mr Bowen : Thank you, Chair. I just have a few remarks to make. I will try and keep them very brief. I have tabled the statistics that I think you have already received. Our annual report was tabled out of session on 30 October, and that is our first annual report as an office. It is available on our website as well as in hardcopy for senators and members, I believe. The PBO workplan for 2013-14 would normally be available by 1 October. This has been delayed because we are waiting to have consultations with the JCPAA before we finalise that workplan.

Now that the election period is behind us and the very heavy costing workload that we had in the lead up to the election has concluded and we have completed our post election report of election commitments the focus of the office is very much on our self-initiated program of published research and analysis on the budget and on fiscal policy settings. I will not go into detail on that now, Chair, but I am happy to take questions on where we are taking that program from here. Also I mention that the Australian National Audit Office has commenced a performance audit of the PBO and this audit is expected to be completed by June of next year.

Finally, we are very happy to say that we are now located in our permanent accommodation in Parliament House on the first floor on the Senate side in room 115. We occupied the new accommodation on 21 October, and I would like to record our thanks to the Department of Parliamentary Services for managing this project for us and to acknowledge that they managed the project on time and within budget. We are very pleased now to have consolidated into a single location after having spent 15 months in various multiple locations—up to five locations we were dispersed across—including a couple of locations in the basement. So it is very nice to come out into the light into a single accommodation. That is all I have, Chair, we are happy to take questions.

CHAIR: Thank you, Mr Bowen. I will go to Senator Wong.

Senator WONG: Thank you, Mr Bowen, for providing the document you have just tabled which shows the number of staff. I wonder if on notice can you also provide an organisational chart?

Mr Bowen : Sure.

Senator WONG: Can I ask, is 35 an FTE figure or is that a head count?

Mr Bowen : That is a head count.

Senator WONG: What is your FTE number?

Mr Bowen : The FTE would be slightly less than that because we have had probably one person working part-time. We are funded for around 40 full-time equivalents. By the way, Senator, in our annual report—I will have to find the page—we do have an organisational chart on page 8.

Senator WONG: That is up to date?

Mr Bowen : Yes, that is very recent.

Senator WONG: Back to the 40 FTE, which you are currently funded for. Are you proposing to fill those positions to your full complement?

Mr Bowen : We are mindful of the guidance that has been provided to us by the Public Service Commission that we should fill positions only if it is critical to do so. That is the approach we are taking. By the way, I should say that the figure of 35 includes—I do not know whether we make that clear in the document; I think we do—two staff members who will be joining the office later this week. We have one further person coming as part of an earlier recruitment round that has already been completed and we have advertised for a permanent publications and communication officer. We have one already, but that person is a non-ongoing person, and the function is critical. As you can imagine, when we are publishing reports, we need somebody to manage that process for us.

Senator WONG: Going back to where I was, is it your intention to fill the remaining five—actually, it is more than that, around six-plus—FTEs or not?

Mr Bowen : At this stage, we will keep it under notice. We have no recruitment action in train to do that.

Senator WONG: Because you are not exempted from the recruitment freeze?

Mr Bowen : The advice to us is that it applies to APS agencies. We are not an APS agency.

Senator WONG: Correct.

Mr Bowen : So, technically, I believe we are not subject to the recruitment freeze, but we have been asked to consider carefully any recruitment that we undertake.

Senator WONG: I will come back to that, but, before I do, can I establish the basis of the 40? You are funded for 40 FTEs presumably because you told the government of the day that was what you required to do your job properly. Is that correct, or are you going to tell me now that there was an enormous ambit claim in your request to government?

Mr Bowen : I did claim for more.

Senator WONG: I know; I was not going to mention that.

Mr Bowen : I did not formally claim for more—I should put it on the record.

Senator WONG: You expressed a view. Would that be correct?

Mr Bowen : Yes, I expressed a view informally.

Senator WONG: That you would like more staff, and now you have even fewer than you are funded for.

Mr Bowen : I think we have shown that over a very heavy workload period we were able to cope with the number of staff that we have had. Of course, in addition to our permanent workforce, I think you would be aware that we are funded every third year in the lead-up to an election to be able to hire people on short-term contracts to assist. During the election period we did that using contract staff from some of the large accounting firms around town. They worked for us; they did not work for the accounting firm. Then, once we had completed that work, they went back to their firm. But, yes, we believe around the 40 mark is a reasonable staffing figure for us at the moment. Of course you can always do more or less depending on the number of people you have.

Senator WONG: You said in an answer to an earlier question that you had been asked to observe—is that the right phrase?—the recruitment freeze notwithstanding the fact you are not an APS agency.

Mr Bowen : What I said was that the specific arrangements that apply to the APS do not apply to those who are not staffed under the Public Service Act. Of course the PBO is staffed under the Parliamentary Service Act. There is an indication that the general principle of minimising new engagements across Commonwealth public sector agencies would also apply to my agency and we will certainly have regard to that. Of course, at this stage, the PBO over the past 15 months or so, in addition to undertaking the work that we have, has been building its capacity and capabilities, including its staff numbers and we are still under our staff budget.

Senator WONG: Mr Bowen, on two occasions you have made reference to an indication. You also said that you had been asked to observe this freeze. Can you tell me how that was communicated to you and by whom?

Mr Bowen : I have an unclassified email from the Australian Public Service Commission.

Senator WONG: What does that email say?

Mr Bowen : I have read out basically what it says.

Senator WONG: Can you table a copy of that, please?

Mr Bowen : I see no reason why I cannot. It is unclassified.

Senator WONG: If you do not have a copy available, later in the hearing is fine.

Mr Bowen : I have a copy. As far as I am aware, there is no reason why you cannot have it. It is an unclassified—

Senator WONG: Probably the Senate would think we should have it anyway, even if you thought of a reason, Mr Bowen. Maybe it is just easier if you give it.

CHAIR: The committee has to resolve to receive that and to have it tabled. As it is the wish of the committee, that is fine. Thank you.

Senator WONG: Mr Bowen, was that the only communication in relation to the application of the recruitment freeze to your agency?

Mr Bowen : That is the only one that is of direct relevance to me.

Senator WONG: Was that the only communication to you or a member of your staff regarding the application of the freeze to the agency?

Mr Bowen : As I say, Senator Wong, I have been in receipt of general correspondence. As an FMA agency, many of these things come to me, whether they apply to me directly or not, but that is the only one that is specific to a non-APS agency.

Senator WONG: Let's talk about it this way. In relation to those other communications that you have referenced, can you tell me from whom they came? Are they from the APSC, are they from the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, the department? I am interested in who is communicating in relation to the freeze to you.

Mr Bowen : I have received a copy of advice from the Public Service Commission. I have not received it from anybody else. As I say, I have received it even though I am not an APS agency and the document makes it clear that it is written to APS agencies.

Senator WONG: Have you have any discussions with any departmental secretaries—

Mr Bowen : No, I have not.

Senator WONG: I turn now to a couple of questions briefly on your post-election report. I have just got the email that you tabled from Ms Foster, who is the Deputy Commissioner.

Mr Bowen : I have not got it any more. I have given it to you.

Senator WONG: Can we give a copy to Mr Bowen?

Mr Bowen : I do not know Ms Foster, but it says 'Deputy Commissioner'.

Senator WONG: Did you have any conversation with Ms Foster or Mr Sedgwick regarding this?

Mr Bowen : No, I have not.

Senator WONG: And on what basis do you understand the general principle being applicable to you? The email says—and I am truncating, or summarising, it—that the specific arrangements will only apply to agencies with staff employed under the Public Service Act. As you say, that is not you. It says that the general principle of minimising new engagements across the Commonwealth Public Sector applies also to your agencies. What is the legal or governance basis for the general principle that is referred to there?

Mr Bowen : I do not think I am the right person to be talking about the legal basis for the principle. But as I read what has been sent to me, I am being encouraged to recruit only if it is essential for me to do so.

Senator WONG: No, I was not asking what was in Ms Foster's mind; I was asking what you understood. So, you understood you were essentially being encouraged—'leant on' might be a harder way of putting it—to not recruit any further?

Mr Bowen : No. I take it that I must think very carefully as to whether the recruitment is critical to the operation of the PBO. Now, I have already said that I am recruiting a publications and communication officer. That position is occupied at the moment, but on a non-ongoing basis, so it will not actually add to the number of staff in the PBO. But it is a critical position for me, and so I intend to proceed and recruit for that position.

Senator WONG: Okay, then perhaps I can go to the election report. I have just a couple of quick questions on this. First, in relation to the Clean Energy Finance Corporation, I just want to confirm that the underlying cash balance save is just over $1 billion and the fiscal balance is $5.29 billion.

Mr Bowen : Can you just give me the page reference? This is a rather hefty document.

Senator WONG: Well, it is your report, Mr Bowen.

Mr Bowen : I know, but they were your and others' election commitments, so they are fairly extensive.

Senator WONG: No, these are the coalition's election commitments; they are not mine.

Mr Bowen : We will have it in a second. If you have a look at page 122—

Senator WONG: I was looking at the summary table, but I just cannot find it currently.

Mr Brown : Senator, are you looking for coalition number 001?

Senator WONG: I am just asking about the coalition saving that you costed for the abolition of the CEFC—the Clean Energy Finance Corporation. I was just confirming the difference between the underlying cash and the fiscal balance figures. The note I have done is $5.29 billion fiscal balance and $1.01 billion UCB. You can take that on notice if you want.

Mr Bowen : We can do that. I did not quite understand the figures, and the reason for that is that the costing you are talking about actually covers more than simply the abolition of the Clean Energy Finance Corporation. The major impact of abolishing the Clean Energy Finance Corporation is on headline cash. It has a small impact on underlying cash and fiscal balance, but, because—

Senator WONG: I think the fiscal balance save that you identified was quite significant, actually.

Mr Bowen : That is from a range of measures, not simply from the abolition of the Clean Energy Finance Corporation. Essentially, what is being abolished with the abolition of the corporation is the injections of equity into the corporation, which would no longer take place.

Senator WONG: Yes, I understand that.

Mr Bowen : That hits the headline cash and, hence, reduces public debt interest on the reduced debt, but that of itself does not hit underlying cash or fiscal. There are some small amounts, I believe, but not the large amount.

Senator WONG: Because of the time I will put on notice some of the questions. I was just clarifying the difference between the UCB and the fiscal balance.

Mr Bowen : We will provide that for you.

Senator WONG: Thank you. I move to the IMA costings—irregular maritime arrivals. I noticed at page 190 that the way you have done your costing is to simply take as read the information on arrivals projected by the coalition.

Mr Bowen : We have, yes.

Senator WONG: The very lengthy process that Secretary Tune put on record in past Senate estimates by which the department of finance is the department responsible for expenses calculates a methodology around arrival numbers. This is not the demand driven model—there is a lot of discussion about that in your report—but the actual baseline data, which is how many people are coming. You simply ignored that?

Mr Bowen : We had regard to the changed assumptions and policy specifications of the coalition.

Senator WONG: I understand that, but essentially what you did—and I make no comment about it here—is to take as read their assertions around arrival numbers.

Mr Bowen : Having regard to what they included in the policy specification, yes, we took the figure that they assumed.

Senator WONG: Did you interrogate the figure against the finance department's methodology—not the demand driven methodology, the methodology around arrival numbers? From your report, it does not read like you interrogated it at all.

Mr Bowen : The previous figures in the estimates, of course, had different assumptions about the processing of refugees, arrangements that are incorporated into the now government's Sovereign Borders—

Senator WONG: Mr Bowen—

CHAIR: Senator Wong, just a moment. You are getting an answer. I would ask you to allow Mr Bowen—

Senator WONG: This is not the question I have asked, actually.

CHAIR: to finish his answer, please, before interrupting him.

Senator WONG: If I can clarify, perhaps this could assist the witness. I am not talking about the demand driven methodology, which is a set of assumptions around the cost per asylum seeker. Can we set that to one side. What I am talking about is the baseline data, the baseline assumption, about how many asylum seekers in fact arrive. I am simply clarifying this. You did not interrogate the coalition's assumptions about arrival numbers. You chose—and it may well be legitimate—not to analyse that as against the finance department's methodology over the forward estimates for arrival numbers. You chose simply to adopt the coalition's assumptions about arrival numbers. Is that correct or not?

Mr Bowen : I think you are oversimplifying the issue. We have adopted the figures that the coalition has assumed but we have also had regard to the fact that the coalition's policy specifications that impinge on arrival rates are different from the policy specifications that previously existed and that were reflected in the finance department's figures.

Senator WONG: On page 190 of your report, at the data sources dot point, it says that information on projected arrivals was provided by the coalition. That is the case, is it not?

Mr Bowen : It is true they provided that, but if you read the whole costing we also had regard to a range of other policy specifications that the coalition outlined in its policy.

Senator WONG: Did you discuss those with the department of immigration?

Mr Bowen : We have had discussions with the department of immigration in the development of this costing, yes.

Senator WONG: So if we asked them they could confirm that the advice was provided in relation to this?

Mr Bowen : You would have to talk to them about what exactly they provided, but we certainly got information from them. We have used their modelling.

Senator WONG: That is a different issue. Let us not go to how much they cost when asylum seekers are intercepted or arrive. That is a completely separate issue. I am only focused on arrival numbers.

Mr Bowen : Arrival numbers were specified, or assumed, by the coalition and we accepted them based on our examination of the entirety of the policy specification that was given to us.

Senator WONG: But in essence you adopt a different methodology for assuming arrival numbers than the Department of Finance had had in place?

Mr Bowen : I cannot comment on—

Senator WONG: It is on the public record.

Mr Bowen : Yes; I am not going to comment on the methodology that Finance used but it would have had regard to the policy specifications of the day.

Senator WONG: That is not quite correct if you look at Mr Tune's evidence to estimates. It is all on the public record, including in the budget papers. So you made a decision to move away from those departmentally generated models. That is a decision you made—it is a decision the independent PBO made. I am just clarifying that that is a decision that was made. Did you discuss this revised methodology with the Department of Finance—that is, acceptance of the coalition's numbers?

Mr Bowen : We did not discuss it with the Department of Finance. You have to bear in mind, too, that the costings that we did for the coalition were in response to requests made prior to the caretaker period on a confidential basis. In line with our mandate we have to be very careful not to breach confidences in those circumstances.

Senator WONG: So do I understand your answer to be in part at least that the reason you would not have discussed it with the relevant departments would have been because you were under the cloak of confidentiality at that time?

Mr Bowen : They are your words—

Senator WONG: You can use a word different from 'cloak' 'if you want.

Mr Bowen : We do take seriously, as I think we are required to under our act, that when we work confidentially for a party or for an individual parliamentarian we do respect the confidentiality of the material that we are working on. I come back to the issue that, yes, at the end of the day we did accept the assumption the coalition had in its policy document but we accepted it on the basis of the policy specifications that were in the policy itself, which were different from the earlier policy specifications.

Senator WONG: As I recall you costed the public service savings. When you did the costing for the coalition did you take into account the savings that the former government had already made in the economic statement and also the 2013-14 budget?

Mr Bowen : Senator, we did make an estimate of those savings.

Senator WONG: When you costed that?

Mr Bowen : The impact of those savings.

Senator WONG: Can you take me to where that is in the document that is, because I thought that explicitly, somewhere, you actually indicated you did not.

Mr Bowen : No. I think what we did say—and I think I had better check it exactly. It is on page 198.

Senator WONG: I only have the front bit. Do you have the full report here and maybe I could get that. I was working off an electronic version. It crashed.

Mr Bowen : This document will do that, I am afraid.

Senator WONG: Where are we?

Mr Bowen : Page 198. What we acknowledge is that, from the budget documentation, it was not absolutely explicit what the impact of the savings was going to be on staff numbers out through the forward estimates. We have said that we faced data limitations.

Senator WONG: I think I know what I read. It is this:

This costing is considered to be of low to medium reliability as the PBO faces data limitations as staffing forecasts are only provided for the 2013-14 financial year and agency estimates for employee expenses are yet to reflect key public service efficiency saving measures from the 2013-14 Budget and the 2013 Economic Statement.

Can I put that into plain English and see if you agree with my understanding of it?

Mr Bowen : Yes.

Senator WONG: You do not as yet have what efficiency measures agencies will have put in place or were intending to put in place as at the time the costing was undertaken from decisions the former government made in the previous budget and economic statement, bearing in mind that obviously we had non-staffing savings per first policy. Therefore the actual number of positions that might be lost as a result of the coalition's policy may well change given that you still have two efficiency measures working through the system before you even look at the imposition of additional staffing reductions.

Mr Bowen : It is correct to say that we did not have perfect data. We did not have absolute data on the staff reductions already built into the forward estimates. We did have information on the efficiency dividend increases and other savings measures. Of course, salaries are such a large component of Commonwealth government expenditure that we were able to make an estimate of the likely reduction in staff and we did do that. We also assumed that to achieve those savings there would most likely be a higher level of redundancy payments made and that the underlying rate of natural attrition would continue perhaps at a slightly lower rate. I think we used five per cent which is a bit lower than the average over the past few years. We also made it very clear, and this is not our policy I might add but our comment on policy: 'A tight constraint on both the engagement of new ongoing staff and re-engagement of non-ongoing staff will be required for the policy to be implemented through natural attrition without recourse to the additional redundancy payments.' So we did look to see what was already being done. We assumed that a lot of the current reduction was due to redundancy payments, which have risen—

Senator WONG: Primarily voluntary redundancy payments.

Mr Bowen : and that, if natural attrition were going to result in this further reduction, then you would effectively have to have a very tight freeze on new recruitment.

Senator WONG: And, if not, you would have to move to voluntary or forced redundancies.

Mr Bowen : You would not be able to achieve it through natural attrition. If you simply replace people who leave, no, you could not.

Senator WONG: That is all I have on the PBO. Thank you.

CHAIR: Senator Smith has a couple of questions.

Senator SMITH: Mr Bowen, I would like to go to page 3 of the statistical data that you have provided to the committee. In particular, I was hoping that you might be able to illuminate us in regard to the average days overdue for information sought by the PBO from departments. Reading through those you will note that for 2013 quarter 1, the figure was 147.5 business days average overdue; 2013 quarter 2, 68 business days average overdue; 2013 quarter 3, 53.5 business days average overdue; and 2013 quarter 4, four business days average overdue. I am just wondering if you could illuminate the reason for that and any learning that you might have had as a result of that.

Mr Bowen : The first point to make is that, overall, we have had extremely good cooperation from the numerous departments that we have placed quite large demands on for information. In fact, I should say now that since this report was prepared we have only one overdue information request; but, certainly, at the end of October there were some outliers, as you have identified. Overall, the average lateness was 3.9 business days or, perhaps more relevant, in the last couple of quarters, it has come down to about a day and a half on average. We would like to get it below that, but that has been reasonably workable for us. Yes, there have been some—a very small number—that have had long delays.

As to the reasons, that is a difficult one for me to answer because it would really be a question that needs to be put to the departments that have taken this amount of time to respond. We of course have continued to press for the information. As it happens, for these particular items—the very long overdue items—we have been able to operate without the data and models that we have been seeking, but they are important, and we now have them. As to why it has taken so long, I think that is a question you really need to put to others.

Senator SMITH: So, as far as you are aware, there are no common characteristics in the reason for the delay?

Mr Bowen : I do not believe so. Some of the information is not simply data. We call it information but it involves models that have been developed by other departments. At times, when used internally, the models—and I am speculating a little here—may not have been developed and documented to the standard that would be necessary for somebody else to use. They might be perfectly adequate for the originating agency, but for us to be able to use them maybe they needed to be more formally documented. It is difficult for me to comment further on that except to say that we continue to work with all of the departments. We have a good working relationship, I believe, with all of them. I would hope that we will not again see lateness figures of that order in the future.

Senator SMITH: My understanding is that you have established memorandums of understanding with each of the departments in order to facilitate the exchange of information. Is there anything in the recent experience that requires you to revisit those memorandums of understanding?

Mr Bowen : It is something we may well review, but frankly, while the memorandum of understanding sets out certain guidelines in terms of the time to respond to urgent requests and to routine requests, it has inherent in it a principle of cooperation and pro-disclosure, and that is in fact what has been happening. These outlying responses are frustrating but they have not frustrated us in the conduct of the functions that we need to perform. From time to time there have been delays, not of this order, which have meant that we have not been able to respond as quickly as we would have liked, but these particular outliers are not in that category.

Senator SMITH: In your opening statement you talked about self-initiated research. Could you provide some commentary around that?

Mr Bowen : Yes. Under the act, one of my functions is to conduct research and analysis on the budget and fiscal policy settings and to publish that work. As you could understand, I think, since the PBO was established in July last year and commenced operations in July last year, the greater majority of our resources have had to be put into meeting the demand for costing of policies and related information requests from senators, members and parliamentary parties. However, after the May budget earlier this year, we did publish our first piece of self-initiated work. It was a report on the structural budget balance, looking at a period going back, I think, to 2001, 2002, and out through the forward estimates. In our first work program we identified a number of areas for further work, with a particular focus in general on budget sustainability and budget transparency. We are well advanced now, and resources are back on this issue in preparing a report on trends in Australian government expenditure. This is a time series analysis that will look at historical trends since 2002-03; we have reasonably good data from that time. And that will also go out through the forward estimates period.

We intend to produce this report in two parts, firstly focusing on actual expenditure and the trends in actual expenditure over the decade and the key drivers of that expenditure. We would hope that that report will be out very shortly, and I am talking about two to three weeks. The second part of the report will look out through the forward estimates period. And given that the government is, I understand, bringing out its Mid-Year Economic and Fiscal Outlook report next month, we propose to use the latest data for the forward estimates in our report, and that will mean that our report will come out—depending on when the government releases its MYEFO document—some time after that.

We have some other reports that we are planning to publish this year. One will look at the sensitivity of medium-term budget projections to changes in economic parameters and other assumptions—a sensitivity analysis. Another will look at revenue trends over time. And, finally, we will look in more detail at one of the major expenditure components of the budget, probably social security and welfare, and drill down into that in more detail to see how that has moved over time and to look at what is driving that very large component—I think it is 35 per cent of the budget. So, that is the indication of the types of things that we do.

Senator WONG: I am not sure whether you were asked this, but what is your engagement with the Commission of Audit?

Mr Bowen : The commission's terms of reference require it to examine ways to—

Senator WONG: Mr Bowen, I can read them.

Mr Bowen : I was going to say—

Senator WONG: We do not have a lot of time. I am just interested in your engagement.

Mr Bowen : You know we are explicitly mentioned in the terms of reference.

Senator WONG: Correct.

Mr Bowen : Okay. I have received a letter from the chair of the commission asking me if I would put in a submission. I propose to give the commission a submission, which in essence will give background to the establishment and mandate of the PBO in Australia and outline the developments internationally that have been occurring, particularly in recent years, where the number of these independent fiscal institutions has grown quite dramatically, particularly since 2005 and quite a large number since the GFC.

Senator WONG: And is the only communication to date the letter from the chair of the commission?

Mr Bowen : I had a phone call—

Senator WONG: From?

Mr Bowen : From one of the secretariat, telling me the letter would be coming.

Senator WONG: And are you able to provide us with a copy of the letter? You could take that on notice.

Mr Bowen : I can take it on notice, but I think it is a letter that has been given to many people; it is not specific to me.

Senator WONG: It is not a specific PBO letter?

Mr Bowen : No, it is not. It is addressed to me, but it is not specific.

Senator FAULKNER: But is it your intention to make the submission public, regardless of what the National Commission of Audit does with submissions? Would the PBO make its submission public?

Mr Bowen : I would have no hesitation making it public. It would be the courteous thing for me to do, I think, to talk to the commission about that. But by all means; it is a very factual document—or it will be a very factual document.

Senator WONG: So, is it your intention, or have you been asked by anyone, in relation to the structural budget work and the growth in welfare and pensions as a significant driver of budget expenditure? Have you been asked by anybody or by the commission to provide that data to it?

Mr Bowen : No, I have not been asked, but, as you know, anything we do by way of self-initiated work we are required to publish. So we will publish it; it will be available to anybody, including the commission.

Senator WONG: And in the letter to you, there were no restrictions in terms of areas that the commission was going to consider? There was no ruling out of health and education as areas?

Mr Bowen : The letter, from memory—and I am going by memory—just simply asked for comment on the terms of reference. It spelled a little bit out, but, no, I do not believe it was ruling anything out.

Senator WONG: There is nothing to stop you or anybody else—from your understanding of the letter—putting in submissions which suggest reductions in fast-growing programs, for example in the health space?

Mr Bowen : Well, I can put in whatever I like.

Senator WONG: Thank you.

CHAIR: There being no other questions for the Parliamentary Budget Office, I thank the officers for their attendance.

Mr Bowen : I just want to correct the record for Senator Wong. It is not a serious correction, but the only part-time staffer who was employed by the PBO left us on 30 August, so the 35 that I referred to are full-time.

Senator WONG: Thank you.

CHAIR: Thank you, Mr Bowen.

Proceedings suspended from 10:33 to 10:49