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Public Sector Informant : PSI - September
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(Confucius) For more information call 02 6282 5660 or email email@example.com www.bayleyteam.com.au 2010/11 -- The year of getting professional SPRING BOOKFAIR AIR AIR FA OK OK All profits go to support the Lifeline 24 hour telephone counselling service Friday, Sept 24, 10am-6pm Saturday, Sept 25, 10am-5pm Sunday, Sept 26, 10am-4pm 'Budawang Building' Exhibition Park, Mitchell Entry by Gold Coin Donation For further information call the Lifeline Office on 6247 0655 10-10400/1 [SEPTEMBER 2010] THE PUBLIC SECTOR INFORMANT 11 the budget numbers game Resourcing the parliamentary budget office in its inception will be critical to its viability: like the Parliamentary Library, it will only be as reputable and skilled as its people. a context when the Treasury delivers its budget; it scrutinises the presi- dent's budget proposals; it costs policies when they reach the legislat- ive stage; and it provides advice to committees. It also prepares a long- term budget outlook on a regular basis (not just five yearly as is the case in Australia) and examines alternative budget options for taxes and spending, which it usually produces at the beginning of a congress. Its budget publications scrutinise the president's budget and outline where the differences lie between the two. Far from being adversarial, these discrepancies are often explained through differences in technical and macroeconomic assumptions, which highlight the often subjective and methodological nature of forecasting and modelling. This sort of publication in Aust- ralia would have the potential to finally rid the Australian economic debate's fixation with budget numbers which present only one view of the macroeconomic landscape (and are notoriously too conservative in the boom years and too optimistic in leaner ones). The Congressional Budget Office model would provide balance in both access to information and a more robust foundation on which economic debate is conducted, by creating an alternative source of budget estimates, including spending and revenue estimates and macro forecasts. There are extra benefits to pursuing a parliamentary-based outfit for fiscal reform. Its creation will rebuild parliamentary institutions, including committee scrutiny, legislative processes and the Parliamentary Library. Committees and legislative debates are currently hamstrung by their reliance on government depart- ments to act in good faith and provide open and frank assessments of poli- cies and their costings. Over the years, these processes have been eroded, as has the public sector's independence and capacity. The parliamentary budget office will also fortify the important role of the Parliamentary Library, which provides an invaluable resource to all MPs and senators. It is renowned for its quality research and impartiality; however, in recent years, its resources have been diminished and so has its ability to adequately service non- incumbents, particularly the oppo- sition in an election year. It lacks the capacity to provide costings, indepen- dent budget estimates or macro forecasts, even though it may have the expertise. The establishment of a parliamen- tary budget office would also render the Charter of Budget Honesty legis- lation obsolete, and spare us the mindless accusations about costing inaccuracies and budget black holes. Any attempt by the major parties to diminish the role of a budget office to a mere ''coster'' of policies would inevitably result in the office's relian- ce on Treasury and Finance to provide inputs, which would under- mine the independence of its analysis and its confidentiality. Those responsible for its establish- ment will also need to safeguard the office against those vested interests within the bureaucracy which will fiercely guard their own monopoly on all things budget, including costings, estimates and macro forecasts. Resourcing the budget office in its inception will be critical to its viability: like the Parliamentary Library, the office will only be as reputable and skilled as its people, so it will need an initial budget of $4 million to ensure that it can recruit, train and maintain its staff, ideally three teams of five people, each area specialising in fiscal, macro and revenue modelling. The office will also need to invest in expensive macro and budget models, and will also require the existing Parliamen- tary Library to be restaffed and more adequately resourced to provide the necessary policy expertise which would support budget and program analysis. (In the past decade, the library's staff levels have dropped 30 per cent and access to information sources have been rationed as a result of the efficiency dividend.) If Australia follows the Con- gressional Budget Office-approach to fiscal and budget reform, we would enshrine macroeconomic and fiscal capacity in the parliamentary frame- work and open the door to robust fiscal and economic analysis within Parliament, which is accessible by all parties and all people. The outcome would be an institution that history will judge as the timeless gift of the hung Parliament of 2010. Silvana Anthony is a senior advisor to Macroeconomics on public policy and administration, and politics. She is a former Treasury officer and federal Labor staffer. silvana.anthony@macroeconomics. com.au
PSI - October