Public Accounts Committee - Post-Election Report

20th November 2019

Mr GREG PIPER (Lake Macquarie) (12:45:20): It gives me pleasure to stand here on behalf of the Public Accounts Committee [PAC] and speak to the report of the committee on theReport on the Parliamentary Budget Office 2019 Post-Election Report. I thank committee members for their assistance in developing this report. I particularly acknowledge Deputy Chair Tanya Davies and other committee members Adam Crouch, Lee Evans, Ryan Park and Felicity Wilson. I thank them for their assistance and support in producing this report. I particularly acknowledge the staff. As all members know, the vast majority of the work is done by committee staff. I acknowledge the secretary of the Public Accounts Committee, Bjarne Nordin.

This was the third post-election report from the Parliamentary Budget Officer, with other reports having come following the 2011 and 2015 elections. And we now have this report after the 2019 election. The Parliamentary Budget Officer, Steven Bartos, appointed for this report was also the Parliamentary Budget Officer in the 2015 election so he had a wealth of experience to report back to the committee. Certainly this experience assisted him in establishing the Parliamentary Budget Office and ensuring it was able to carry out its responsibilities as quickly as possible in the lead-up to the 2019 election.

The committee heard that Mr Bartos felt the ability of the Parliamentary Budget Office could be improved, particularly in relation to a recommendation he made to extend the life of the PBO and make it a permanent standing body. This is something that had been the subject of debate in this Chamber. I acknowledge the member for Keira, Ryan Park—a member of the Opposition in this place—who put forward a private member's bill to achieve that purpose. He spoke to that with some passion during our deliberations. Having considered Mr Bartos' recommendations and acknowledging the views of the member for Keira, the Public Accounts Committee came to the conclusion that there may be some middle ground on that.

The committee has recommended that the PBO be established for a period of 12 months. Importantly, in changing the nature of its use, we suggest that the PBO be made available to all members of Parliament for the first six months of its operation. This would then be refined as we move into the last six months prior to the election, as it is now. The PBO would then be made available to the major parties—the Coalition and the Labor Party—whether in Government or in Opposition. Mr Bartos made 17 recommendations in his report, but that was probably the most substantial recommendation and the one that we gave the most consideration to.

Another recommendation that I thought needed particular consideration and was of some merit dealt with his concerns about the confidentiality of information or advice that came to or from the PBO. Mr Bartos was concerned that some information sought by the Opposition may have been leaked—for want of a better word—through interactions with other ministries or agencies. That is a very real concern with the process. The reality is that this is about understanding the policies of the two major players'—the Coalition and the Labor Party—in the lead-up to an election to inform the community and upcoming electors. The integrity of that process should not be undermined in any way. Mr Bartos' 17 recommendations were inherently sensible, notwithstanding the fact that the recommendation to form a permanent body was not supported. I commend the very important Public Accounts CommitteeReport on the Parliamentary Budget Office 2019 Post-Election Report to the House and the Government.

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