Senate debates

Thursday, 9 March 2023


Budget; Order for the Production of Documents

12:27 pm

Photo of Slade BrockmanSlade Brockman (WA, Liberal Party) Share this | Hansard source

I too rise to take note of the ministerial response. We have a great deal of accountability hypocrisy from those on the other side. The BPORs, Budget Process Operational Rules, are a pretty arcane document, I think it's fair to say. Not many people listening to this broadcast would know what the BPORs are. There might even be one or two people sitting in this chamber today who don't know what the BPORs are.

Sadly, I do know what the BPORs are. I had some encounter with them, in a previous life, as a starter for the finance minister. The easiest way to explain them to the Australian people is to say they are the guide rails, for departments and ministers developing a budget, to stay within. They're the rules for the budget. It's pretty simple if you think about them that way.

What we saw when Senator Hume was able to have the government release the BPORs for their first budget was that there were some pretty significant changes in there. They revealed that the Labor government had ditched the requirement to offset new expenditure for election commitments. They removed the coalition government's tax to GDP cap of 23.9 per cent from the physical strategy. They also removed the cap on APS growth in Canberra. So we see, from the information that we got from the first release of the BPORs, that these make a real difference.

Now we've got this change of position from the Labor government. Just a few months ago they were willing to release the budget rules, and now they are not. So I think the question the Australian people should be asking of this government is: why? If they have changed the budget guidelines, why won't they tell? If they have changed the rules governing the construction of their next budget, why won't they tell the Australian people how they have changed those rules? That's pretty straightforward. That's honesty. That's transparency.

Remember, we've got a Prime Minister who came in on a very clear set of promises regarding transparency. It couldn't be more clear than this. Anthony Albanese said, 'Transparency is always a good idea.' He also said, 'Well, what we need is transparency, and I want politics to be cleaned up.' This is my favourite:

The Albanese Government is committed to integrity, honesty and accountability and Ministers in my Government (including Assistant Ministers) will observe standards of probity, governance and behaviour worthy of the Australian people.

Are those opposite are holding themselves to that standard? Under pressure from Senator Hume, they released the BPORs just a few short months ago, and they've acknowledged that they've change the rules—they've acknowledged that they've change the guide rails that govern how the budget is put together—but they won't come clean. They won't come clean about how they've changed those guide rails.

Sadly, this is now becoming a pattern with this government. You have to wonder, Senator Hume, whether the release last year was actually an accident. Was it because it was a government on training wheels? Was it because it was a government that wanted to try and stay within its promises for a little while anyway? I suspect a little of all of the above. The guide rails that they have now changed secretly and won't release are very important to the Australian people because they are seeing a pattern from this government. They're seeing a pattern. They're seeing a government that talk a lot about transparency and accountability, but the government are accountability hypocrites. They have accountability hypocrisy built into their DNA.

We have seen changes to the transparency of super funds, which was one of those actions of this government. Why? Coming into government, why was reducing the amount of transparency within super funds one of the first things they had to do? You have to question what this government's motivations actually are. Instead, we see a government that is attempting to keep quiet, whenever they can, information that will be damaging to them. As they put together what is going to be a very important budget for the Australian people at a time of rising inflation, rising interest rates—this budget is a very important one to craft in the interests of the Australian people. These budget rules are the guide rails for that budget process. It's vital to know that those guide rails are set correctly.

We have seen the government expect the RBA to do all the heavy lifting in terms of inflation, and so we have seen the fastest rate of interest rate rises pretty much in the history of Australia. We have seen mortgage interest rates on the average home go up to an extraordinary degree, with the average homeowner paying almost $1,000 more—it might be more than $1,000 now—for their home loan interest every month. It's a situation where the government has done nothing through its levers of power to take pressure off from those interest rate rises and assist the Reserve Bank in controlling inflation. Inflation is a scourge. Anyone who went through the 1970s and 1980s knows the scourge of inflation. Sadly I'm old enough to remember them. Senator Scarr, I think you probably do as well. The scourge of persistent inflation is absolutely devastating. I can remember back the sheer financial pressure that was put on my parents' family farm in the 1970s through a combination of high inflation and relatively high interest rates at the time.

The government do have things they can do. They've done absolutely nothing so far, but they do have things they can do, and putting the correct guide rails in place for the upcoming budget would assist them in doing them. Have they done that? We don't know, Senator Scarr. We don't have a clue, because the government are now not releasing their budget rules even though just five months ago they did, when those rules were still active. As Senator Hume has said, those rules were still in place when they were released five months ago. They were released to this parliament, as they should have been, and now Senator Hume has quite rightly asked for the rules at the moment. We know the rules have changed, and we want to know how the rules have changed. What has the government done to the budget rules in the lead-up to what is really a very important budget for this nation? We have the Reserve Bank doing all the heavy lifting on inflation. We have this government doing absolutely nothing to tackle inflation and the cost-of-living crisis faced by families. Instead we have them out there lifting tax on superannuation, something they very clearly promised not to do.

Changes to the franking credits, Senator Scarr. I'll take that interjection, even though it's disorderly.


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