Parliamentary Budget Officer Amendment Bill 2018
25th September 2018
Mr GREG PIPER (Lake Macquarie) (17:24): I contribute to the debate on the Parliamentary Budget Officer Amendment Bill 2018. I note the worthy contributions to the debate of members from both sides of the House who ran through the history of the establishment of the Parliamentary Budget Office [PBO]. They talked about the intention of the office and its challenges. I refer those who are interested in the history of the office to previous contributions reported in theHansard and I will speak on the general premise of the Parliamentary Budget Office. In large part I agree with the comments made by Opposition members in relation to the need for the establishment of a permanent Parliamentary Budget Office.
I note that the member for Keira will move a number of amendments to this bill. I find a number of these proposed amendments somewhat wanting. I do not understand the value of some of the amendments—for example, reducing the length of time a government agency has to respond to a request lodged with the PBO from 10 days to five days. I believe this would be risky because responses on complex issues may subsequently be found wanting because the legislation placed an artificial constraint on the PBO's ability to provide the requested information. However, I do not find it difficult to support the proposed amendment to change the length of time a government agency has to respond to a request for information from six business days to five business days, although this seems to be a fairly modest achievement, if it can be called that.
I support the intention that the government agency be required to respond in two business days if it does not hold the requested information. That would allow the PBO to move on quickly and in a realistic time frame. However, removing the proposed section that allows the Parliamentary Budget Officer to provide copies of material to the Secretary of the Department of Premier and Cabinet to enable the preparation of material for an incoming government does not make sense to me. This would be at a time when the incoming government wants to formulate its ideas and its program for taking office. I suspect that the Government will not support the amendments of the member for Keira, although it is a shame that some of the amendments will not be supported, particularly after the wonderful theatrics during the member for Keira's contribution to this debate. Those theatrics were some of the best I have seen today, and I congratulate the member on them.
I generally support other aspects of the bill, although there could be further improvements to the process. However, I will focus my comments on the premise that the Parliamentary Budget Office is a resource that can only be accessed by Government and Opposition members, as touched on by the member for Macquarie Fields. I believe Independents, most significantly, and minor parties are an integral and important part of the political process in New South Wales—and I note the member for Balmain is in the Chamber. In my view Independents and members of minor parties certainly have a reason to access the office so they can get credible figures to prosecute their case for policy changes, whether for infrastructure, for the provision of health services, for palliative care, for additional nurses, for additional police officers, for a new police station or for whatever resource their constituents require. They should be able to access that information for their local constituents and they should have the right to participate in the debate for a statewide budget. They do not have that opportunity.
I think it is a shame that an Independent member does not have this opportunity. I have been in this place for nearly 12 years and I have noticed that Independents and members of minor parties are placed at the end of the line when they seek to make a contribution to a debate or they wish to attend a parliamentary function. It is made very clear that they are considered to be lesser members because they are not members of one of the big teams of politicians. I will not accept that. I believe that I and the member from Balmain, the member for Sydney, the member for Newtown, the member for Ballina, the member for Orange and the member for Wagga Wagga are every bit as significant as other members of this Chamber. I believe the Constitution of New South Wales does not reflect the might of a party and does not take a winner-takes-all approach.
New South Wales is not only the oldest Parliament in Australia but also the wealthiest Parliament, apart from the Commonwealth Parliament. New South Wales is probably the wealthiest State or Territory Parliament, and in my view we should step up and take responsibility to provide opportunities for each and every member of this Parliament to get its policies costed by the Parliamentary Budget Office. Returning to the detail of the legislation before us, I believe that the bill is an improvement on the current Act. I appreciate that the majority of the recommendations of the Public Accounts Committee report concerning the Parliamentary Budget Office have been adopted in this legislation.
I note that we are moving ahead on this legislation, but we are moving ahead in minor ways when we are denying a significant portion of Parliament from participating in the PBO process. As the member for Lake Macquarie, I say to the Treasurer that I would like to participate in the process. I do not want to unnecessarily burden the PBO or the Government, but if I am touting a particular policy for my area my constituents have every right to know that I have properly considered the costs of the policy. Of course, participation should be open to every member of the House, be they from a large or a minor party. The legislation before us will improve the current Act and I appreciate that. I know not everything is perfect, and I have raised some matters with the Treasurer. Perhaps we will have an opportunity in the future to advance the PBO and engage a full-time Parliamentary Budget Officer.
Website: Read full Parliamentary debate