PBO Guidance 02/2014
Guide to policy costings procedures, information
requirements and methodology1
The Parliamentary Budget Office's policy costing role
Policy costings prepared by the PBO fall into two categories:
- outside the caretaker period for a general election, policy costings on request by Senators and Members, with the requests and the PBO's responses to be kept confidential if so directed by the requestor; and
- during the caretaker period for a general election, policy costings of publicly announced policies on request by authorised members of Parliamentary parties or independent members.
Procedures for Requesting Policy Costings
The procedures for submitting requests for policy costings are set out below. Each request must:
- be in writing, addressed to the Parliamentary Budget Officer
- outline fully the policy to be costed giving relevant details; and
- state the purpose or intention of the policy.
Outside of the caretaker period, if the request, the policy costing or any other information relating to the request is to be treated as confidential, it is important that this be clearly stated in the written policy costing request.
A pro-forma policy costing request for use outside of the caretaker period is attached. It provides a guide as to the detailed information that should be provided to help ensure that the PBO is able to process the request as quickly as possible.
Guidance on arrangements for submitting costing requests during the caretaker period for a general election will be issued in advance of the next general election, along with an updated caretaker policy costing request pro-forma.
As noted in PBO Guidance 02/2013, when the PBO undertakes a confidential costing for an individual parliamentarian or political party, it relies solely on the policy details specified by that parliamentarian or political party. Consequently, the costing request must fully specify the policy that is to be costed.
The PBO may need to seek additional information on the policy specification in order to complete a costing. In these circumstances the additional information must be provided to the PBO in writing.
These procedures reflect the PBO's formal requirements. In addition, the PBO is available to meet with requestors, both to clarify any issues before a written request is made and to discuss any additional information requirements after a request has been submitted.
Timing of costing responses
The time taken by the PBO to respond to a costing request will be determined by a number of factors, including the complexity of the costing, the availability of information, and the PBO's workload at the time. The PBO will make its best estimate of the timeframe for responding to a request at the outset and provide timely updates to the requestor if this timeframe is likely to be extended. Where a parliamentarian has submitted multiple requests, the PBO may also seek advice from the parliamentarian as to the priority of those requests.
Where a confidential costing request is made to the PBO before the commencement of the caretaker period for a general election, the PBO is able to complete that request on a confidential basis so long as it can be completed before the general election. If the PBO does not have sufficient information, or has not had sufficient time to prepare a policy costing before the general election, the request for the policy costing is taken to have been withdrawn (see PBO Guidance 02/2012 for more detail).
Where a request for a costing is made during the caretaker period and before polling day and cannot be completed before the polling day for the election, the costing request will be deemed to have been withdrawn as at polling day and the Parliamentary Budget Officer will issue a statement to that effect.
The caretaker period may extend beyond the polling day for an election. Where requests for costings are received in this period and cannot be completed before the end of the caretaker period, they will be deemed to have been withdrawn at the end of the caretaker period and the Parliamentary Budget Officer will issue a statement to that effect.
The costing methodology adopted by the PBO will be consistent with the Charter of Budget Honesty Policy Costing Guidelines. Consistent with these Guidelines, costings will be provided for the current financial year plus the following three years. The Guidelines also provide that where a revenue or expense is likely to be significantly different beyond the forward estimates period, it may be necessary to include a statement about the financial impact of the policy in the relevant years beyond the forward estimates. A listing of conventions for the preparation of fiscal costings is attached.
The PBO is exempt from the provisions of the Freedom of Information Act 1982 as are any documents relating to PBO requests for information that are held by other Commonwealth bodies.
When outside the caretaker period a direction is given to the PBO to keep a policy costing request confidential, the PBO will take all reasonable measures to keep confidential the request, any related written or other interactions with the requestor, and the PBO's response. These measures will include appropriate levels of physical and IT security, the requirement for staff to hold appropriate security clearances, a strong culture of discretion within the PBO, and the strict application of the need-to-know principle.
The PBO has a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with the Heads of Commonwealth bodies in relation to the provision of information and documents to the PBO. The MOU places strict obligations on the Parliamentary Budget Officer and the Heads of Commonwealth bodies to protect the confidentiality of requests that are made in confidence by the PBO, and the information that is provided in confidence to the PBO in response to such requests.
Australian Government protocols also apply to the engagement between Commonwealth bodies and the Parliamentary Budget Officer. The protocols place an obligation on the Heads of Commonwealth bodies and their staff not to disclose to the Government the details of confidential requests for information from the PBO, or the subsequent response to the PBO. The protocols also place an obligation on Government Ministers and their staff not to ask the Heads of Commonwealth bodies or their staff to provide them with any information that would disclose the nature of a confidential request from the Parliamentary Budget Officer. Also, Heads of Commonwealth bodies or their staff must not disclose the details of a confidential request from, or the response to, the PBO to a third party, other than a Commonwealth body, unless required to do so by law.
Commonwealth bodies may provide the PBO with sensitive information for the purposes of undertaking a costing or analysis, and those bodies may request that the PBO keep that information confidential. Where this is the case, the PBO may utilise that information for the purposes of the costing, but is obliged to take steps to protect the sensitive information from direct or indirect disclosure.
1This Guidance updates and replaces PBO Guidance 01/2012 issued on 28 August 2012.
Phil Bowen PSM FCPA
Parliamentary Budget Officer
||15 July 2014
||Colin Brown, First Assistant Parliamentary Budget Officer - (02) 6277 9530
Back to top