National Leader Simon Bridges opposes proposed establishment of independent body to cost political parties' policies and scrutinise government spending; Government plans to have such a body set up in 2021 after the election

National Leader Simon Bridges opposes proposed establishment of independent body to cost political parties' policies and scrutinise government spending; Government plans to have such a body set up in 2021 after the election
Green Party Co-Leader and Associate Finance Minister James Shaw

The National Party is trying to prevent the Government from setting up an independent body to cost political parties’ policies and monitor the way taxpayer money is allocated and spent.

The Green Party has for some time advocated for the establishment of an independent fiscal institution so that there's more effective scrutiny of fiscal policy and transparency around what political parties promise to do.

Calls for one became particularly salient when in the lead up to the 2017 election the then-Finance Minister and National Party campaign manager, Steven Joyce, claimed Labour had a $11.7 billion “fiscal hole” in its books.

The Coalition Government in May 2018 announced plans to set up a Parliamentary Budget Office (PBO), and in September 2018 started consulting on the matter.

On Tuesday the Government said work on setting up a PBO was taking time, so it wouldn’t be operative until after the election in mid-2021.

Finance Minister Grant Robertson wanted the PBO to be given ‘Officer of Parliament’ status.

Given to the likes of the Auditor General and Ombudsman, he said this status would provide the body the necessary independence for it to carry out its role.

Members of the Officers of Parliament Committee, who represent different political parties, need to provide their unanimous support for this status to be granted.

While there are technical ways around this, National digging its heels in on the matter will make it more difficult for the PBO to be established in the form currently proposed.

National Party Leader Simon Bridges on Tuesday said: “I oppose it because I don’t trust the Government on it. I think it’s an opportunity they see to illegitimately, undemocratically screw the scrum on the Opposition.”

He said he felt “obstructed” by Robertson’s office and Treasury, as he’d unsuccessfully endeavoured to get a Treasury official to help him cost policies.

“If they won’t even provide me with a secondee at the Opposition’s own cost, how can I trust them with a supposedly independent institution over the top of that to provide a view on our costings?”

Robertson said the Treasury official matter was a completely separate issue that was being worked through.

He said Bridges’ response was “hugely disappointing” and stressed the high level of independence that would be given to the PBO.

The Officers of Parliament Committee is expected to make a decision in coming weeks on whether to grant Officer of Parliament status.

Robertson had expected legislation to set up the PBO to be introduced before the end of the year, with the intent of it being operational from July 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,” he said.

“To do this, we’re drawing on international experience and carefully listening to the feedback from the earlier consultation process.”

In the meantime, he said Treasury would establish a new team to provide a policy costing service to the political parties represented in Parliament.

Parties can currently ask the Finance Minister to request that Treasury costs a political party policy. This service will be improved ahead of the 2020 election, as political parties will be able to approach Treasury directly for this service to be carried out.

Associate Finance Minister and Green Party Co-Leader James Shaw said the PBO would result in fewer political games.

“Having an independent PBO 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,” 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.”

We welcome your help to improve our coverage of this issue. Any examples or experiences to relate? Any links to other news, data or research to shed more light on this? Any insight or views on what might happen next or what should happen next? Any errors to correct?

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So another to add to the list of all wind, no action.

@printer8 ........ true .........the Greens have more hot air than the entire dairy-cow herd on the Canterbury Plains

Let’s just depoliticise politics shall we?
Set up an objective unpolitical committee to run government like in Italy under Monti which went down well? We already have departments run by quangos. Let’s go full on unaccountable with technocracy who know what we all need and get rid of politicians doing what we vote for

There are four inescapable issues with any 'independent' scrutiny/analysis of vague political promises.

  1. To the extent that said promises will influence economic behaviours, predicting the myriad of possible reactions and thence behaviours, is a fraught process. It may well be subject to the Hawkmoth Effect: so many bifurcated paths that real prediction is impossible.
  2. The costing process may be arithmetically tractable but rely on so many assumptions about FX rates, raw material costs, the timing of liabilities, and the like, that, as for #1 above, prediction is a lost cause. The promises, after all, tend to range economy-wide. The researchers may well be living in 'Model-land'.
  3. The staffing and research implicit in the PBO relies entirely on - er - Staff - who are up to the mark. The phrase 'good enough for Gubmint work' springs to mind.
  4. The timing of the PBO - after the 2020 election - rather undercuts its short-term value. And short-termism is baked into the electoral cake: who's to say it would not be reduced to a PA and a letterhead by the next MMP crew?

Typical , cannot get its act together .

So come election time, we will be bombarded with outrageous bribes and promises like 300,000 almost- for -free houses in Auckland for some ill-defined group , or like first year fees free study for people too lazy to vote on election day , a million trees , and all manner of nonsense........... and not have a cooking clue what it may cost

Just another one of these let someone else do the work groups that cost the country money, and deliver absolutely nothing.
They need this group just because they haven’t got a clue themselves.
Absolutely no business sense any of the coalition and so much for the year of delivery.
Delivery of just more BS!

Would you prefer John "I'll fix the housing crisis... Wait, there's no housing crisis" Key? With Mr "If a house is purchased, it's certainly affordable for someone" Woodhouse on his side?

@courtjester ........... well actually our houses in New Zealand are quite cheap when compared to Tokyo , Hong Kong , Shanghai or Seoul

Even if we ignore the fact that wages are also higher in those areas, your argument is basically "there are at least four more unaffordable cities in the world, so everything is fine".

Folks, I have updated this story quite a lot, having spoken to Simon Bridges and Grant Robertson after the initial version was published. 

Firstly.. can we fix the typo.. Steven Joyce called an 11.7bn fiscal hole... not 1.7bn.

Secondly can we all take from this that Robertson has clearly decided that BERL's analysis pre the 2017 was clearly not suitably independent and has ultimately proven to be completely flawed.

Treasury used to perform this analysis and critique of government and opposition policies... shame they let all the economists go and brought in the feel good scientists instead.

I already pay 15% GST , then roughly 30% on my self employed income, 45% in all. This will have to go up to pay for all these people helping the government to try to stay in power.

Are you saying that the only way for National to get elected is to let them throw obvious false accusations at Labour?

I drove to work today on nice roads with few pot holes. Nobody broke into my house last night, and that is pretty normal. When I get sick, I know that there is a very good chance I will get all the care and medicine I need to recover. I am not worried about neighboring countries invading us. When I buy something from the shop, I can trust that it more or less will do the job, and will not be unnecessarily dangerous to use. I know that when I sign a contract, the other party will likely stick to the conditions. Now it looks like in future there might be some limits on what a politician will be able to tell me when asking for my vote, and it won't just be the he said vs she said garbage we have at the moment... Sounds like a positive step to me.

But by all means, go live in some country where you don't have to pay any tax..

But obviously he is the only taxpayer in NZ. Also the hardest working one.

@ the Joneses ........... you must be immigrants ........ because we Kiwis dont give these things a second thought , they are so far removed from our lives that they don't even cross our minds on a daily let alone ever basis

Nope, born here. Just sick of people moaning on about paying taxes, without considering what they are getting back for it. I don't like paying tax either, but I understand it is the cost to live in a modern, safe and productive society.

Wow, look at the original headline "Nats oppose Govt move to prevent another '$11.7b fiscal hole' campaign".

I thought the journalists on this site were attempting to diverge from the same path as the rest of the MSM, namely being openly biased and proud.

Your page hits are going up so rapidly precisely because you normally don't play these sorts of games.

It's still the headline. The short headlines on our homepage are different to the long headlines shown when you click on a story.

Nothing biased here. All the drama around the "$11.7 billion fiscal hole" might not have ensued if an independent authority with the same status as the Ombudsman could've looked through the politicking from both sides of the house and cleared the air by saying: "Labour's policies will cost X amount". 

"Nothing biased here"
Well, to be honest the truth in this case is biased against National.

It should have ensued because he was correct, and was shown to be correct in hindsight.

If left-wing economists are willing to go in to bat for Labour and against National, why should National voters trust an "independent" body to correctly cost Labours promises of ponies and unicorns for all?

The same reason National should trust other independent figures in the public service like the Ombudsman, the Auditor General and the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment.

"Left-wing economists" aren't bound by the laws and layers of accountability that Officers of Parliament are. They have different jobs so you can't compare them.  

I don't speak for everyone, but if you think National voters in general trust those "independent" figures, I have a bridge to sell you. Right now we have an "independent" Reserve Bank as well, whose Governor is openly calling for socialist policies. Very independent.

all parties distort the truth, one that comes to mind was JK using the 3% foreign buyers fiqure for the whole country to say there was no problem in auckland
or this morning SB claiming the whole country is paying 20cents a litre for fuel when that is only auckland because of the regional fuel tax.
the other sides do it to,
the old adage applies
do you know when a politican is lying
he is talking

Yes it was incredible how the Nats got away with creating such a big false economy and did nothing for so long. We all know that the foreign buyers figures were far far higher than they were willing to admit. Still I guess the first thing they would do if they got voted back in again, would be to remove the Foreign Buyer Ban. It's amazing the global impact that had on the property markets including ours, all looks clearer in hindsight. I fond this Al Jazeera news article fascinating when the buying was at its peak: The Hunger for Global Real Estate | 101 East https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oFcsFOKXsFU

The Minister in charge of the "past 9 years card " Mr Robertson , is overplaying his hand

To not support a PBO just makes National look corrupt. Wrong argument to pick a fight on.

We need a PBO, but it wont necessarily help. Just look at the US.

I'm trying to get my head around the 'tax and spend' label being pinned to the coalition. The quesiton I'd like to answer is if this is a myth or a truth?

If I look at the attached graphs (set to max time period - 1990 to present) - it would appear there has been no change in trends in taxation and spending since the coalition took over government.

https://tradingeconomics.com/new-zealand/government-spending
https://tradingeconomics.com/new-zealand/government-revenues

I might be wrong and looking at incorrect data - but might this mean the 'tax and spend' label holds no truth at all and our right wing anti coalition friends are trying to spread a myth? I'm happy to be corrected if there is better data to prove that the coalition are significantly increasing taxation and spending as we should see a deviation in trends from the previous 9 years of the National government which I can't see (just trying to establish the truth here before labelling things like actions/behaviours which I'm sure everyone would understand?).

I crunched some numbers in October last year to try to figure out how much more tax New Zealanders are paying under the Coalition Govt. You might find this helpful/interesting: https://www.interest.co.nz/opinion/96526/jen%E2%80%8B%C3%A9e-tibshraeny-crunches-numbers-figure-out-whether-criticisms-labour-party-tax

Thanks Jenee - that adds some perspective. It would be interesting (for me...sad!) to see how this stacks up a year later with actual tax revenue vs expenditure (and totals not just select items). Would this be a worthwhile article perhaps from an interest perspective?

I do get tired of hearing about 'Taxinda' and the 'tax and spend' coalition. If can be proven to be true, then those that like those phrases can use them openly as they are true - but there would need to be a significant deviation from what National were doing - if not it's fake news and should be put to bed and those using the terms shut down for false arguments.