Monday, 3 June 2013
Private Members' Business
Department of the Treasury and Department of Finance and Deregulation
That this House expresses full confidence in the:
(1) Department of the Treasury and Department of Finance and Deregulation;
(3) following words by Treasury Secretary, Martin Parkinson: ‘I can say on behalf of David Tune, the Secretary of the Department of Finance and myself—and get this right—were PEFO [the Pre Election Economic and Fiscal Outlook] to have been released on the 14th of May, it would have contained the numbers that were in the budget.'
I am all for vigorous debate in this chamber, as I hope we all are about the ideas facing our nation, but there has been a recent trend where rhetoric has drifted a long way from reality. That is why on the motion last week we got the House to move a confidence motion and see the House of Representatives and every single member in this House support with full confidence the science community of Australia and the advice that man-made climate change is real.
Likewise, today is a chance for the House of Representatives to express in full its confidence on the work of the Department of the Treasury and the Department of Finance and Deregulation and end this game of rhetoric in the public domain, somehow questioning the advice that is received from the best that we have got in this country on advice around the budget, around PEFO and around forecasting and estimates. It is a problem that, culturally, we seem to be getting more and more into. Only today the candidate in my electorate was questioning the estimates from the New South Wales and the Commonwealth education departments. We are seeing questioning of the corporate plan of the National Broadband Network. We are seeing ASIO's work being questioned.
Again, I am all for full debate in this chamber, but it is drifting off our job if we are attacking those who cannot respond, who are working in an apolitical way and providing the best advice possible, and saying that it is all being done for some sort of political expediency. Public servants are just that—they are here to serve the public in this country—to serve the public. They are not here to serve one political persuasion or the other; they are here to do the job of providing the best possible advice they can without fear or favour. I would hope that this chamber accepts that, acknowledges that, respects that and endorses that ongoing work regardless of temperatures raising over the next three or four months with regard to elections.
My colleague next to me, the member for New England, and I, on the back of the 2010 election, saw this firsthand with the departments of Treasury and Finance. All the election promises were put on the table. There was a break of the conventions around elections, where, thankfully, the leaders of both political parties agreed to allow us access to Treasury and Finance, and we witnessed firsthand the very best in this country working through all the election promises made and providing advice, without fear or favour, at a very difficult time and, in many cases, with personal consequences to these senior public officials. They did it without bias. They sat with the leadership teams of all persuasions, argued the toss, and then put their signatures onto paper in the most objective way possible.
They are honest men and women. They are men and women of integrity, and I think they are doing all they can to provide the very best and most certain advice in challenging political times. So the reason for this vote today is to make sure the House has not forgotten that, and to make sure the words spoken publicly, from people like the Treasury secretary, Dr Martin Parkinson, are confirmed as accurate by all members in this House. When he says that of 14 May the budget, if we are talking about the pre-election financial outlook known as PEFO, then PEFO would have equalled the budget, and the budget would have equalled PEFO. There is no difference. There is nowhere to hide in any fudging of the figures. There is nowhere to hide in some grand conspiracy of public servants turning into political party apparatchiks.
The figures are the figures. The deficit is the deficit. There is no secret bottom-drawer figure. PEFO would have equalled the budget, and the budget would have equalled PEFO. So to have heard comments in this chamber that challenge that—and certainly to have heard comments in the public domain that challenge that—and question the integrity of officials who will work for all sides of politics in the best way they can for our nation, I think— (Time expired)
We share the member for Lyne's confidence in the Treasury and Finance but we certainly do not share the member for Lyne's confidence in the Treasurer and the government which the member for Lyne and the member for New England support. There is a small fact that the member for Lyne may wish to acquaint himself with—it came from an act of parliament put in place by the best Treasurer Australia has ever had, Peter Costello, in 1996—
Mr Windsor interjecting—
The member for New England might not want to follow the standing orders that he sanctimoniously claims that he supports all the time but if he would not mind not interrupting during this it would be terrific.
The Charter of Budget Honesty Act 1998 has several divisions. Division 1, section 10, budget and economic fiscal outlook report, starts with:
The Treasurer is to publicly release and table a budget economic and fiscal outlook report at the time of each budget.
So that is the Treasurer's own document. Division 2, the midyear economic and fiscal report, is owned by the Treasurer, I remind the member for Lyne. The Treasurer is responsible for the public releasing and tabling, under division 3, of the final budget outcome report, Member for Lyne. The Treasurer is responsible, under part 6, for the intergenerational report, Member for Lyne. And under part 7, the pre-election economic and fiscal outlook report, the responsible secretaries publicly release, member for Lyne.
So there is a distinction in the acts of parliament, putting aside the fact that the Treasurer and the Minister for Finance and Deregulation have their names attached and signatures on the actual budget document. It is their document. That is the executive responsibility of the government of the day.
The forecasts, the numbers and all the projections are the work of the Treasurer and the minister for finance. Of course they are advised. Of course they take advice and information from the Treasury and the finance department. We support the Treasury and the Department of Finance and Deregulation in the work they do, but they are owned and operated documents and directions from the executive government. It is a perfectly clear fact, and we are perfectly right to question the government when they put in policies that have such negative consequences not just for today but for the future.
I will just point to one that the member for Lyne has supported up hill and down dale—that is, the mining tax, the farce of the mining tax that he still supports to this moment. He nods his head in agreement—the farce of the mining tax! This is a document that the Prime Minister herself takes credit for. There is no Treasury involvement there. In fact, they bragged about them not being in the room. We know that other Independents in this chamber know a fair bit about the mining industry as well.
This mining tax is the tax that in this forward estimates, in this budget year, was expected to have $4 billion in revenue. Do you know how much it has raised? How much has it raised? It has raised five per cent, but it gets better. The member for Lyne is sitting there going: 'This is terrific. Woo hoo! What a great job the Treasurer is doing. What a great job this government I am propping up is doing. Five per cent!' Guess how much the government has spent on it? One hundred per cent of the five per cent it got. You joke, seriously. This is the government that this member for Lyne supports. That is just one example of where the Treasurer and his document, the one that he signs off on, are a farce.
Another example, one close to my heart, was last weekend, where we had in the low-detention facility in Inverbrackie a convicted Egyptian jihadist—and the member for New England laughs. He laughs! You will be answerable to the electorate about this.
Too often the crucial work of our nation's public servants goes unnoticed and goes unthanked. As the member for Fraser I am pleased to say that many of these hardworking public servants are my constituents. I myself have been seconded to Treasury and have seen firsthand the hard work of those public servants. We on this side of the House believe in a frank and fearless Public Service in the great Westminster tradition. Those opposite would prefer to have a flaccid and fearful Public Service. That is their ideal of public service.
It is clear why those opposite have spent three years waging a smear campaign against Treasury. It is because they have an ever-widening costings black hole. They are therefore desperate to avoid scrutiny of their costings, and they see the boffins and the bean counters as an obstacle to that. At the 2010 election, the member for North Sydney concocted bogus allegations of Treasury politicisation to avoid submitting coalition policies to Treasury and Finance. Instead, the opposition had their policies costed by a private accounting firm, who overlooked that they had an $11 billion black hole. That private accounting firm was subsequently fined by the Institute of Chartered Accountants for breaching professional standards. Despite that, the member for Goldstein has in this chamber claimed that those faux costings were 'as good as you can get anywhere in the country, including in Treasury'.
On 19 September, I was witness in this chamber to a savage attack by the member for Goldstein against the institution of Treasury and against then Treasury Secretary Ken Henry, who, as honourable members know, was appointed by Treasurer Costello to that position. The member for Goldstein claimed the $11 billion black hole was:
… something fabricated with the use of Treasury officials to give government a political advantage.
The member for Mackellar—who in 1992 shot to prominence after attacking public servant Trevor Boucher—joined in, saying:
… this Parliamentary Budget Office is something that is simply linked to the coattails of Treasury.
She went on:
I made the point that Treasury and the head of Treasury had been rewarded for things that they had done to assist the government.
… … …
… it is politicised and that is why we cannot trust them.
The member for Mackellar has even said of former Treasury Secretary Ken Henry:
He served the government very well in the latter stages of his appointment, particularly when it came to assessing the budget savings that were put forward by the opposition prior to the last election.
This is like a rich kid who gets a maths question wrong and, instead of accepting the right answer, goes to the principal asking for the teacher to be sacked.
The opposition in the last election were badly out in their costings, and their pretext now is that budget forecasts cannot be relied on. The member for North Sydney has said:
The numbers are just not believable. It is fundamentally a dishonest budget.
… … …
I don't believe they are Treasury numbers. They are Wayne Swan's numbers.
Treasury Secretary Martin Parkinson has directly rejected these allegations. He said on 21 May:
I can say on behalf of David Tune, the secretary of the Department of Finance and myself—and get this right—were PEFO to have been released on the 14th of May, it would have contained the numbers that were in the budget.
PEFO is produced independently by Treasury and Finance in caretaker period, without political oversight. Dr Parkinson has told us in crystal clear terms that the numbers in the budget represent the best professional estimates of Treasury and Finance. They have not been tampered with by the Deputy Prime Minister as those opposite would have you believe. They are the best estimates of honest and hardworking public servants.
The member for North Sydney continued his extraordinary slur, saying:
I would have expected Martin Parkinson to say nothing different yesterday because he is, quite appropriately, a servant of the government.
This is continuing in the same vein as the members for Goldstein and Mackellar. He should withdraw that claim. Attacking Treasury is not only unfounded; it is also weak. In public debate, public servants do not have the opportunity to defend themselves as we in this place do. It is wrong to treat them like a political football.
On the other side of politics, Senator Sinodinos, my opposition counterpoint as shadow parliamentary secretary to the Leader of the Opposition, has worked hard in the Department of Treasury and who I think knows as— (Time expired)
I rise today to speak on this most curious of motions. I call it curious because I find it intriguing that a so-called Independent would be parroting the exact same lines as the government. I find it curious that a so-called Independent is pursuing the distraction agenda of the Treasurer and, through this motion, would seek to try to politicise the public service.
It seems that the member for Lyne, and for that matter the member for New England, who has seconded this motion, have more confidence in the Prime Minister and Treasurer than many members of the government's increased backbench—just ask the member for Hotham. I must say that I find it hard to keep up with the Treasurer: on the one hand, he claims to be a great economic manager when compared to European countries whose economies have imploded, then we are meant to believe he is a mere cipher for Treasury, that the budget produced itself and that he is merely the messenger.
Anyone with even a cursory understanding of a budget knows that it is the government's document; wholly and completely. There are only two names attributed to these documents, and neither of them are Dr Martin Parkinson or Mr David Tune. They are, in fact, the Treasurer and the finance minister. These documents are theirs; they own them. They own the numbers inside them and must take responsibility for them.
The Charter of Budget Honesty states clearly that the budget papers and the mid-year economic update are signed off by the Treasurer and the Minister for Finance and Deregulation. These are political documents. The heroic assumptions and massive revisions are the product of the Treasurer and finance minister. The charter is explicit: the only document signed off by the Treasury Secretary and the Finance secretary is the pre-election economic and fiscal outlook—PEFO—which is released within 10 days of the writs being issued for an election.
Let me be clear: on this side of the chamber we understand that Treasury have a job to do and they do it well. There are many talented and hard-working people in Treasury and Finance who serve our nation with great distinction. Our concern has never been about Treasury or Finance; it has been about the constant shortcomings of this government, and in particular this Treasurer. It was not Dr Parkinson or Mr Tune who promised a surplus over 500 times, it was the Treasurer, Wayne Swan—