Wednesday, 10 October 2012
Questions without Notice
Parliamentary Budget Office
My question is to the Minister for Finance and Deregulation, Senator Wong. Can the minister outline to the Senate the effect of the Australian government protocols governing the engagement between Commonwealth bodies and the Parliamentary Budget Officer released last month? Particularly, could the minister explain how the protocols will ensure that requests outside the caretaker period are treated confidentially?
The protocols to which Senator Cameron refers are government policy and what they are about is ensuring that the Parliamentary Budget Office can operate well and as the committee that the coalition was a member of anticipated that the Parliamentary Budget Office would operate. These protocols ensure that the officials cannot tell ministers or their officers about requests for information from parliamentarians or the responses provided if the request is requested to be treated confidentially. These protocols also prohibit ministers or their staff from asking officials to provide them with any information which would disclose the nature of a confidential request.
In other words, these protocols protect confidentiality in the period of confidentiality for the Charter of Budget Honesty. What that means is that Mr Hockey and Mr Robb have absolutely no excuse anymore to not be transparent with the Australian people about the true costs of their policies. Let us remember that out of their own mouths they have acknowledged that they have to find $70 billion worth of cuts over the forward estimates. That is like stopping the family tax benefit for three years and the age pension for two years. The reason that they do not want to use the Parliamentary Budget Office and they do not want to comply with Peter Costello's Charter of Budget Honesty is they do not want to tell people what they really want to do in government. They do not want to tell people what they are going to cut.
We saw it again today with questions about the defence budget. Mr Abbott, as we know, has previously beaten his chest about this and has said, yet again, that he is going to bring back all the funding for defence. What are you going to cut to fund it? Is it the pension? Is it the family tax benefit? Is it health funding? Is it schools funding? Is it child care? You will not front up to the Australian people. That is why you are avoiding the use of the Parliamentary Budget Office.
Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. Can the minister explain to the Senate whether the establishment of the Parliamentary Budget Office has changed the existing Charter of Budget Honesty rules around disclosure of election policy costings? Have the rules on disclosure of election policy costings that applied at previous elections changed?
I thank Senator Cameron for that question. No, the rules of disclosure of election policy costings as laid down by Peter Costello have not changed. We agree with Peter Costello when he said, as he introduced the Charter of Budget Honesty:
By requiring the costings to be made publicly available, there is limited scope for the results of the costings to be misrepresented.
He might have been anticipating Mr Robb and Mr Hockey, mightn't he, in the last federal election when they misled the Australian people about the true cost of their policies, only to be found out after the election?
What is extraordinary about it is that they are spoiling to do the same thing. They want to tell people nothing before the election about what they will cut should they get into government, what they would cut to fund their $70 billion black hole.
Mr President, I ask a further supplementary question. Can the minister outline to the Senate what support is available for non-government members and senators following the establishment of the Parliamentary Budget Office? How does this contrast with the situation before the introduction of the Parliamentary Budget Office?
This change demonstrates that the 'I'm too lazy' response from the opposition no longer works, because someone else will do the work if you just give them your policies.
That is what you want to do anyway: you want to use accountants who are fined for unprofessional conduct and you want to use catering companies. But now you have a Parliamentary Budget Office. The reason you do not want to commit to the Charter of Budget Honesty—Peter Costello's Charter of Budget Honesty—is that you do not want to commit to showing the costs of your policies and your cuts to the Australian people prior to the election.
That is what you do not want to tell them. Remember $70 billion and two years of the age pension. The reality is that those opposite do not want to front up with the truth. They do not want to tell Australians what they are going to cut before the election.
Opposition senators interjecting—