I rise to contribute to this very important debate in relation to the Parliamentary Service Amendment (Parliamentary Budget Officer) Bill 2011 and the particular amendments which we are moving now.
This is an incredibly important debate, and of course it is only occurring because of the actions of the coalition and in particular the actions of the member for North Sydney in putting this matter on the agenda. We would not be having this discussion at all—the government would not be putting forward a countermotion—had we not put this agenda item on the table in the first instance.
This is important for a number of reasons. Most importantly, it is critical to have an independent office that the opposition can rely upon, can have confidence in, and can get detailed analysis from in order to put forward its propositions going towards an election. We know there have been problems in the past. We know that, when the opposition has put in costings to the Treasury in the last few years, we have not always got the confidentiality that we would demand. We have not always got the analysis and integrity that we would have expected from the particular process. So we have moved to establish a completely independent parliamentary budget office so that we do not have to rely upon the Treasury in order to do this particular work and we do not have to rely upon information which could be compromised from a confidentiality perspective.
This particular amendment that we are putting forward, amendment (2), strengthens these objectives. It is an objective which is apparently now shared across this chamber. It is no longer our objective just on this side of the chamber to have an independent office; it is indeed apparently an objective of the government members also. Apparently we now all want an independent office. Apparently we now all want terrific transparency to enable the opposition to get independent confidential costings leading up to an election. We apparently all want the sun to shine in and for there to be greater accountability in relation to this particular matter. Given that these are apparently the shared objectives, I ask the government to consider very carefully the particular amendments that we are putting forward now in order to deliver upon those objectives.
One of the key parts of giving an agency independence and integrity is its ability and its right to be able to gather information in order to do its analysis. If the agency does not have that ability to gather the information that it requires, then its analysis will be compromised. At the moment, under the government’s bill, gathering that information would be reliant upon a memorandum of understanding between the Department of the Treasury and the other departments. We do not think that is good enough, and the member for Dunkley has gone through some of the reasons that has been the case. Indeed, the Treasury has been advising that the ability for the PBO to access information from other departments would be less than the current ability to access that information under the present freedom of information laws.
So our amendments here strengthen the ability of the Parliamentary Budget Office to gather the information that is required for it to do its job. If you go through and look at the particular amendments, they are very straightforward. In essence, they enable the Parliamentary Budget Officer to require and obtain the information that it sees fit. If the government honestly believed in the objectives of creating an independent budget office with proper powers and proper scrutiny, then it would support this particular amendment.
The other critical thing is that the Parliamentary Budget Office must operate in a confidential way. The second part of our amendment is that it strengthens the confidentiality provisions. They are very straightforward amendments here. They empower the Parliamentary Budget Office to obtain the information that it needs and it empowers the Parliamentary Budget Office to ensure that there is confidentiality. I submit to the government: support these amendments if you are fair dinkum about the Parliamentary Budget Office. (Time expired)