Independent election policy costing unit a step closer

The creation of an entity to provide political parties with independent and non-partisan policy costings is a step closer today, according to Finance Minister Grant Robertson and Associate Finance Minister James Shaw.

Cabinet has recommended that the independent Parliamentary Budget Office (PBO) – Kaitiaki Kaupapa Rawa – is given the status of an Officer of Parliament.

“This will give the PBO the necessary independence to undertake the role for which it is being established,” Finance Minister Grant Robertson said.

The Government is submitting a proposal this afternoon to the Officers of Parliament Committee (OPC) recommending this status. A decision on the recommendation is expected in the coming weeks.

Setting up the PBO delivers on the Confidence and Supply Agreement between Labour and the Green Party. The PBO is designed to monitor the Government’s fiscal strategy as well as provide independent costings of political party policies.

Associate Finance Minister James Shaw said the independent PBO will mean more transparency about what political parties are promising to do, and fewer political games played.

“Having an independent Parliamentary Budget Office should lift the quality of debate about the ideas being put forward by political parties. The PBO will help cut through the noise to deliver New Zealanders unbiased information during election campaigns,” James Shaw said.

“The PBO should enhance New Zealand’s democratic framework by levelling the playing field, meaning that political parties have access to the same resources to give the public consistent and independent information.”

The Office is set to be operational from mid-2021.

“It would have been ideal to have the office set up before the 2020 election, but we’re making sure we’re taking the time to get this right,” Grant Robertson said.

“To do this, we’re drawing on international experience and carefully listening to the feedback from the earlier consultation process. It is currently anticipated that legislation will be introduced before the end of the year, with the intention that the PBO be operational from 1 July 2021.

In the meantime, resource has been set aside for an interim costing unit for the 2020 election, to be hosted by the Treasury, as is possible now.

“We engaged with the National Party on our proposal earlier in the year, and welcomed former Finance Spokesperson Amy Adams’ positive response to the proposal. We understand that National’s new Finance Spokesperson Paul Goldsmith will be consulting his caucus on the proposal,” Grant Robertson said.

Notes to editors:

Given that the PBO would not be established in time for the 2020 election, Ministers have agreed to improve existing protocols, by which parties can ask the Minister of Finance to request that the Treasury cost a political party policy.

For the 2020 general election, the Treasury will establish a new team to provide a policy costing service to the political parties currently represented in Parliament. Political parties will be able to directly approach the Treasury for this service. The service will be performed independently from the Government.

The Officers of Parliament Committee is chaired by the Speaker, Hon. Trevor Mallard, and contains five other members from Labour, National, NZ First, and the Green Party. The Committee recommends appointments and funding levels for Officers of Parliament such as the Ombudsman, the Auditor General, and the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment.