Alister Henskens portrait
Alister Henskens portrait

Parliamentary Budget Officer Amendment Bill 2019

Building Windows

Debate resumed from 6 June 2019

Mr ALISTER HENSKENS (Ku-ring-gai) (10:53:35): I appreciate the opportunity to reply to this private member's bill on behalf of the Government. The House will know that the original Parliamentary Budget Officer Act was introduced in 2010 by the Labor Government and was one of those bills introduced by them which effectively set up what was likely to be their period in Opposition. We all remember the circumstances which obtained in 2010. It was the worst, most corrupt government that this State has seen since this Parliament was established—

[An Opposition member interjected.]

I hear the member for Maitland chirping away in the House. Typical form from the member for Maitland.

[Opposition members interjected.]

The ASSISTANT SPEAKER: Order! Who is interrupting?

Ms Jenny Aitchison: That was not even me that time.

The ASSISTANT SPEAKER: Order! I did not say it was the member for Maitland; did I mention the word Maitland? Apology accepted. The member for Ku-ring-gai has the call.

[Opposition members interjected.]

Mr ALISTER HENSKENS: I can still hear chirping from the member for Maitland. There is a lot of chirping today. We all remember that dirty, rotten government, before 2011, the government that saw at least three of its members found to be corrupt by ICAC—Eddie Obeid, Ian Macdonald and Joe Tripodi. I apologise to the House if I have left any out.

Ms Lynda Voltz: Where's Daryl?

The ASSISTANT SPEAKER: Order! I call the member for Auburn to order for the first time.

Mr ALISTER HENSKENS: I think Ms D'Amore was also found to be corrupt. Indeed, it is salient to remember that administration—that dirty, rotten administration—in the context of this debate.

Ms Jenny Aitchison: Use a thesaurus. I would have thought you had more words. Run out of superlatives?

Mr ALISTER HENSKENS: I do not know what the member for Maitland had for breakfast but she is certainly very chirpy.

The ASSISTANT SPEAKER: I ask members to behave. The next train that leaves Martin Place is in five minutes. If members continue misbehaving I will make sure they are on it, under Standing Order 249. The member for Ku-ring-gai has the call.

Mr ALISTER HENSKENS: There must be something in the air at the moment on the Labor side of the House. I know there is a lot of angst—

The ASSISTANT SPEAKER: Order! Members entering the Chamber will be quiet.

Mr ALISTER HENSKENS: There is a lot of angst with their leadership dispute and contest. Of course, it is regrettable that the budget reply speech, which is about to be delivered, will not be delivered by anybody thought competent enough to be the future leader of the Labor Party—not even in the game.

Ms Jenny Aitchison: Point of order: It is Standing Order 73. That is an outrageous slur on the member for Keira and if the member for Ku-ring-gai wants to make that kind of statement he should do so by way of substantive motion.

The ASSISTANT SPEAKER: Thank you, member for Maitland. The member for Ku-ring-gai will continue.

Mr David Mehan: And wear a better suit.

Mr ALISTER HENSKENS: You could not afford this suit.

The ASSISTANT SPEAKER: Order! I will start kicking people out. The member for The Entrance should look at his own suit.

Mr ALISTER HENSKENS: I do not think the member for The Entrance has ever gone near Saville Row to be able to afford this suit. I must say that the point of order—

[Opposition members interjected.]

The ASSISTANT SPEAKER: Member for Ku-ring-gai that was a little unfair.

Mr ALISTER HENSKENS: That point of order from the member for Maitland was very instructive and apparently one needs a substantive notice of motion to state the fact that the member for Keira is not a contestant for the Labor leadership—

Mr David Harris: Point of order.

The ASSISTANT SPEAKER: Order! The member for Ku-ring-gai will resume his seat. I ask members who have just entered the Chamber to take their seats This is not George Street; it is the New South Wales Parliament. I call the member for Cessnock to order for the first time.

Mr David Harris: Point of order: My point of order is taken under Standing Order 76. The member for Ku-ring-gai has not even started to address the actual bill. He is talking about a range of issues, none of which is to do with this private member's bill. I know he is filling in as much time as possible, but he is right off track.

The ASSISTANT SPEAKER: There is no point of order.

Mr ALISTER HENSKENS: Regrettably, that is the sort of vacuous point of order that we constantly hear from the member for Wyong.

The ASSISTANT SPEAKER: Order! Members who continue to interject will be asked to remove themselves from the Chamber.

Mr ALISTER HENSKENS: If the member had the courtesy to listen to what I had said, he would have known that I started my contribution to the debate by speaking about the 2010 Parliamentary Budget Officer Act, which this private member's bill seeks to amend. That would be an obvious place to start any consideration of the bill.

Debate interrupted.


Debate resumed from an earlier hour.

Mr ALISTER HENSKENS (Ku-ring-gai) (12:30:10): The amendments to the Parliamentary Budget Officer Act 2010 propose the establishment of a permanent Parliamentary Budget Office and an increase in the scope of the Parliamentary Budget Office's key functions. The Government sees many reasons to oppose the bill. The costs of having a permanent Parliamentary Budget Office and broadening its remit cannot be justified. In 2011 the Committee on the Parliamentary Budget Office found that the benefits of a permanent Parliamentary Budget Office were outweighed by the costs and did not provide value for money for the people of New South Wales. The reason for that conclusion was that the current arrangements for transparency and accountability in New South Wales elections were already adequate.

I will remind the House of those current measures for transparency. The current Act establishes the Parliamentary Budget Office as an independent office of the Parliament; the office provides costings of election policies in response to requests by parliamentary leaders and budget impact statements for all costed policies; and the appointment of the Parliamentary Budget Officer commences on 1 September in the year prior to a general State election—which is sufficient for the fulfilment of the functions of the Parliamentary Budget Office—and ends three months following the election.

The current term of appointment allows sufficient time for the Parliamentary Budget Office to discharge its duties and promote transparency and accountability in elections. Indeed, at the most recent election it commendably performed its role. The Government and Opposition policies were costed and there was commendable transparency. A permanent Parliamentary Budget Office would need a broader function to justify its role and purpose within our parliamentary system. I very carefully scoured the second reading speech of the member for Keira, who has put forward this bill, and no compelling justification was put forward to the House for the proposed expansion of the role under this bill.

For the 2019 election the Parliamentary Budget Office was allocated $2.25 million to meet its capital, operational and staffing requirements for a term of 10 months. A permanent Parliamentary Budget Office will need a greater budget allocation based on the proposed expansion in the scope of its functions and reporting activities. There is no justifiable purpose for that substantial increase in outlay. It is very interesting that the member for Keira in his budget-in-reply speech today was complaining about government expenditure and increased debt yet he puts forward a bill with an ill‑conceived and ill‑justified rationale that will add to the cost of government. The inconsistency and hypocrisy of his position is quite extraordinary and laid bare. It is an additional expense for the Government and for taxpayers that is not needed.

As the bill is drafted, a permanent Parliamentary Budget Office would substantially duplicate functions that are currently undertaken by parliamentary committees, such as the Public Accounts Committee of the Legislative Assembly, the Legislative Council Public Accountability Committee and other general purpose standing committees. It is important that our elected representatives, who are already properly funded to undertake financial accountability and transparency in government, should be allowed to fulfil their democratic purpose and duties. To have unelected people fulfilling important functions of elected representatives is unacceptable, anti‑democratic and very inconsistent with the tenets of our democracy. What are members of Parliament to do if we appoint statutory office holders to fulfil all of the roles that we are charged with under legislation and under our parliamentary remit?

[Opposition members interjected.]

I hear the chatter across the Chamber. There is a lot of chatter in the Labor Party at the moment. Of course, they do not want democracy. They do not want members of Parliament to have a meaningful role in our democracy. They want to outsource everything because at their very core they are very, very lazy people. They just want to recline on the couch and go to sleep. They do not want to do their jobs. They continually display themselves to be innumerate—they do not like numbers, they do not understand numbers.

Mr Mark Coure: They don't understand.

Mr ALISTER HENSKENS: They waste money when they are in government and they complain about things that they do not understand when they are in opposition. It would be good for our democracy to make them do a little bit of work—to read a few balance sheets, to read the budget papers properly instead of selectively, as was evident from the budget-in-reply speech, and to actually do their job. The bill as drafted would duplicate the functions of several government agencies, including the NSW Treasury and the office of the Auditor‑General. The bill substantially undermines the integrity of the New South Wales parliamentary system. In our system of government the appropriate avenue for interrogation of budgetary, fiscal and economic issues is the budget estimates process. Recently the Legislative Council substantially expanded the days of hearing for this process. That is another reason why a permanent Parliamentary Budget Office cannot be justified.

The proposed Parliamentary Budget Office arrangement would duplicate and undermine one of the tenets of the New South Wales parliamentary system and compromise its integrity. In short, New South Wales has a Parliamentary Budget Office that is fit for purpose. It is well resourced, it produces independent advice that informs voters in New South Wales and, importantly, it is a focused office. It is not a wide-ranging, ill-focused, expensive body, as this bill proposes to establish. It is a focused body, it is not ill-conceived and it is not an unwarranted expense to the budget. Accordingly, the Government opposes the proposed measures outlined in this private member's bill.