Frequently asked questions

Heading questions and a decorative image


  1. 1. What does the PBO do?

    The Parliamentary Budget Office (PBO) was established in 2012 to inform the Parliament by providing independent and non-partisan analysis of the budget cycle, fiscal policy and the financial implications of proposals.

    We do this in three main ways:

    •    by responding to requests made by parliamentarians for costings of policy proposals or for analysis of matters relating to the budget
    •    by publishing a report after every election that provides transparency around the fiscal impact of the election commitments of major parties
    •    by conducting and publishing research that enhances the public understanding of the budget and fiscal policy settings.

  2. 2. Does the PBO make policy recommendations?

    No.  The PBO does not provide policy recommendations in its responses to requests from parliamentarians or in its research reports.

    PBO costings focus on providing an assessment of the fiscal impact of a policy proposal.  They do not contain advice as to the merits or otherwise of the policy proposal.

    PBO research reports seek to highlight budget-related issues and trends to improve an understanding of budget and fiscal policy matters, but do not make policy recommendations.

  3. 3. What is the PBO’s relationship with the government (ministers and departments)?

    The PBO works for the Parliament and is independent of the government and the Australian Public Service.  The Parliamentary Budget Officer is a statutory officer appointed by the Parliament who reports to the Parliament’s Presiding Officers (the Speaker of the House of Representatives and the President of the Senate).  The Presiding Officers cannot direct how the PBO performs its functions.

    The PBO is one of four parliamentary departments that work directly for the Parliament.  The other parliamentary departments are the Department of the Senate, the Department of the House of Representatives, and the Department of Parliamentary Services.

    While the PBO is an independent agency, we work closely with government departments and agencies to ensure that the information we provide to parliamentarians and our published research is accurate and well-informed.  A memorandum of understanding has been agreed between the Parliamentary Budget Officer and the heads of government departments that governs our access to information.

  4. 4. Who is the PBO accountable to?

    The PBO is accountable to the Parliament of Australia.  The Parliamentary Budget Officer reports to the Parliament’s Presiding Officers (the Speaker of the House of Representatives and the President of the Senate) in relation to the management of the PBO, and our operations and work plan are overseen by the Joint Committee of Public Accounts and Audit (JCPAA).  The PBO is also subject to scrutiny by the Senate Finance and Public Administration Committee three times a year as part of regular Senate estimates hearings.

    In addition to regular scrutiny through the estimates hearings, the JCPAA may request an independent review of the PBO to be conducted following a general election.  There have been two such reviews to date, the first a performance review conducted by the Australian National Audit Office following the 2013 general election, and the second a review by independent reviewers Ian Watt and Barry Anderson following the 2016 general election.  Links to these reviews are available on the PBO website.

  5. 5. Are there similar organisations to the PBO in other countries? What about in State parliaments?

    Yes.  The Australian PBO is one of many similar ‘independent fiscal institutions’ that have been established around the world.  These include institutions like the Netherlands Bureau for Economic Policy Analysis (established in 1945), the Congressional Budget Office in the United States (established in 1974), the Korean National Assembly Budget Office (established in 2003), the Canadian Parliamentary Budget Office (established in 2008), and the Office for Budget Responsibility in the United Kingdom (established in 2010).

    At June 2018, 26 out of 35 OECD countries had established an independent fiscal institution.  These organisations have a variety of mandates and functions, but they all share an objective of increasing transparency around national budgets.  To find out more about these organisations visit our Related information page.

    In addition to organisations established overseas, PBOs have been established, or are being considered, by some Australian state governments.  New South Wales established a part-time PBO in 2011, with the office functioning for around nine months in the lead-up to and following the state election (which is a four-year fixed term).  Victoria has established a full-time PBO with the first Parliamentary Budget Officer appointed in April 2018.  South Australia established a Parliamentary Budget Advisory Service in the lead-up to the 2017 state election, which has since been disbanded.

  6. 6. Does the PBO have a role in the preparation of the budget?

    No.  The budget is the Government’s economic statement which it prepares with the assistance of government agencies and is handed down by the Treasurer.  While the PBO has developed considerable expertise in budget matters, we work for the Parliament rather than for the government of the day.  We provide the Parliament with information about the budget, either at the request of parliamentarians or parliamentary committees, and through our research reports.

    Questions about the budget in general should be directed to the Commonwealth Treasury.  Questions about specific budget proposals should be directed to the relevant Commonwealth Government department.

  7. 7. Where can I find PBO research reports and what regular publications does the PBO release?

    PBO research reports can be found on the Research reports page of the PBO website.  On this page you can find PBO research reports that have analysed various aspects of the budget, including the research reports that the PBO prepares on a regular basis, such as:

    •    the Budget medium-term projections, which provide detailed analysis and projections of receipts and payments over the forward estimates and the medium-term period.  The purpose of these reports is to better understand the factors that are leading to changes in the budget aggregates over the medium term.
    •    the National fiscal outlook, which looks at the budget position of the Commonwealth and the states and territories together.

    The PBO’s regular publications also include:

    •    chart packs and other budget analyses, which provide a graphical summary of the budget
    •    the unlegislated measures update
    , which reports on the impact of unlegislated measures with significant financial implications. See Frequently Asked Questions numbers 30 to 34 for further information on the Unlegislated measures report.

  8. 8. What is the PBO’s role around elections and what is the PBO’s election commitments report?

    The PBO has particular roles around election times.

    Successive governments have accepted that, during the period preceding an election for the House of Representatives (the House), the government assumes a ‘caretaker role’.  The caretaker period begins at the time the House is dissolved and continues until the government is returned or, if there is a change of government, until the new government is appointed.

    During the caretaker period any costing requests received by the PBO from a parliamentary party, along with the costing responses, must be publicly released.

    Following the election, the PBO examines the fiscal cost of every election commitment for all of the major parliamentary parties and, within 30 days of the end of the caretaker period or seven days prior to the first sitting day of the new parliament, we publish an election commitment report.  Minor parties may elect to have their election commitments included in this report.

    This election commitment report presents, for each major parliamentary party, the aggregate impact that each party’s election commitments are estimated to have on the budget over the forward estimates and medium‑term periods.  It also presents estimates of the fiscal cost of each election commitment announced by parties.

Policy costings

  1. 9. What is a policy costing?

    A costing prepared by the PBO is an impartial and independent assessment of the financial impact of a policy proposal on the Australian Government budget. It estimates how much a policy proposal, if implemented, would change the budget surplus or deficit as presented in the government’s most recent budget or other mid-year update.

    Our Costings and budget information page includes request templates, guidance documentation and an overview of the request process.

    For further information on costings, see:

    • Guide to reading PBO costings, which provides a quick overview on how to read a costing produced by the PBO. This guide is available on the Guides to the Budget and PBO work page of the PBO website.
    • What is a Parliamentary Budget Office Costing?, which provides a conceptual explanation of what a costing is, what it is designed to capture, and how a costing estimate is generated. This paper is available on the Information papers page of the PBO website. 

  2. 10. Who can ask for a PBO costing?

    The PBO works for the Parliament.

    We are available to provide costing and budget analysis services to parliamentarians and to parliamentary committees.  Requests for advice must be made by individual parliamentarians or by parliamentary committees.

    Members of the public cannot request policy costings or analysis of the budget from the PBO.  However, the PBO makes a wide range of material available to improve transparency around the budget and inform public discussion of the budget and fiscal policy settings.  All of the PBO’s research reports, submissions to parliamentary inquiries, publicly released costings, post-election reports, and information papers are available on the Publications page of the PBO website.

  3. 11. Does the PBO cost all the policy proposals it receives?

    The PBO strives to cost all the policy proposals it receives from parliamentarians and we estimate the financial implications of many complex policy proposals each year. Often the PBO seeks further clarification on the specification of the policy from the requesting parliamentarian and the costing can be completed after the clarifications are received. On rare occasions we may determine that we are unable to cost a proposal. On these occasions, we explain the reasons for our conclusion in a letter to the requesting parliamentarian and may include information that provides some assistance. Matters that inform our assessment of whether or not we can cost a policy proposal include whether:

    •    the data are available. The PBO has very good access to a broad array of information to use in completing its costings. However, on occasion, required data may not be available and gaps cannot be filled with reliable, objective assumptions. In this case we may respond to a costing request by saying that the financial implications of the proposal are unquantifiable.
    •    the PBO has (or could obtain) sufficient subject matter expertise to reliably estimate the financial impact of the policy proposal.
    •    there are any confidentiality or national security constraints.
    •    preparing a response would be an efficient use of PBO resources.

    Part of the PBO’s purpose is to help level the playing field for all parliamentarians by providing access to publicly funded costing and budget analysis services. In considering the matters above, the PBO also takes into account how government agencies would respond to such a request.

  4. 12. Who provides the policy specifications and assumptions used in a PBO costing?

    The policy specification that the PBO uses to cost a policy proposal is that provided by the parliamentarian who made the policy costing request.  They must specify all the policy detail necessary for us to cost the proposal.

    On the other hand, all decisions relating to how we undertake a costing, the model we use, data, assumptions and methodology, are made by the PBO, exercising our best professional judgement.  These are all matters that are determined independently by the PBO.  While we may seek advice from a wide range of different sources on costing matters, the final decisions on how to cost policy proposals are all made by the PBO.

  5. 13. Where does the PBO get its models and data from?

    The PBO has access to a wide range of data sources.  Much of the data we use is publicly available information from sources such as the Australian Bureau of Statistics or and some of the information we use is confidential information from government sources.  For example, by legislation, we have access to the full range of de-identified tax return data from the Australian Taxation Office, and under a memorandum of understanding (MOU) arrangement with the heads of government departments, we are able to access a wide range of data, from financial information like program expenditure estimates through to de-identified information on payments and transfers at the individual level from administrative databases.

    We use the MOU arrangement to obtain many of the models we use to cost policy proposals.  We also build our own costing models.  Whenever we use a model we have obtained from a government agency, we review that model to verify that we understand how it operates and to ensure that it does what we need.  The models we obtain from government agencies range from those that relate to particular budget measures through to models of major parts of the budget, such as personal income tax, company tax, social security, schools, higher education, child care, indirect taxes, and superannuation.  Where we modify or improve on these models, we share the enhanced models with the agencies concerned.

  6. 14. Are PBO costings comparable to costings included in the budget?

    The PBO prepares its costings of policy proposals using the same budget rules and costing conventions as the government uses in preparing the budget.  All PBO costings are prepared using the most recent budget estimates as the costing baseline, and using comparable models and data.

    Our costings may differ from those produced by government agencies from time to time, particularly where a costing requires judgement about things like behavioural responses to the policy.  In most cases, government agencies would have to make judgements about the same things in order to cost the same policy and it is possible that our judgements may differ from theirs to some degree.  Where we are required to make such judgements, we base them on the available evidence, in some cases informed by consultations with outside experts, with the final decision reflecting our best professional judgement.  We are open and transparent about the judgements we have made in our costing advice.

  7. 15. What checks are there on the accuracy of PBO costings?

    The PBO undertakes rigorous internal quality assurance checks of its costings as well as checking, wherever possible, against benchmarks such as previous costing estimates and budget costings of similar policies.  We also undertake evaluations of selected past costings and of key models to review our costing models with the benefit of additional information or data on actual outcomes.  These evaluations are undertaken using both PBO staff and external input.

  8. 16. Do PBO costings take behavioural impacts into account?

    The costings prepared by the PBO estimate how much a policy proposal, if implemented, would change the budget outcome as presented in the most recent budget or other fiscal update.  Our costings take into account the expected response of individuals or businesses affected by a proposed policy change to that change (ie behavioural responses) wherever those responses are likely to have a significant impact on the cost of a proposal.

    The types of direct behavioural impact that the PBO regularly takes into account in its costings include, but are not limited to:

    •    the change in demand for a good or service arising from a change in its price (the own price elasticity)
    •    the change in demand for alternative goods or services as a result of the change in the price of a nominated good (substitution effects)
    •    take up rates, that is what proportion of people (or other entities) who are eligible to benefit from a particular policy opt to take up that benefit
    •    avoidance or minimisation behaviours, where people (or other entities) modify the transactions they undertake in order to increase or decrease the extent to which they are subject to a policy proposal
    •    timing of transactions, where people (or other entities) change the timing of transactions (either bringing them forward or deferring them until a later time) they enter into in order to benefit from a policy change.

    Further details of the PBO approach to including behavioural effects in costings of policy proposals can be found at Behavioural assumptions and PBO costings, which includes an information paper and a search function for behavioural assumptions that have been made in published costings since 2019.

  9. 17. Do PBO costings take broader economic effects into account?

    Most PBO costings capture the direct behavioural responses to policy change of people (or other entities) who are directly affected by the policy.  In most cases, however, they do not include impacts that could arise due to the effects of a policy proposal on the wider economy, for instance through a change in prices, wages, investment or productivity that can change the rate of growth of the economy.  These impacts are sometimes referred to as ‘broader economic’, ‘second round’, or ‘indirect’ effects.  In the United States, the inclusion of these effects is referred to as ‘dynamic scoring’.

    The PBO’s approach is consistent with the approach undertaken in the United States, United Kingdom, Canada and New Zealand, and with the approach taken in most costings presented by the Commonwealth Government in the budget.

    While there is no question that broader economic effects do arise in response to some significant policy changes, there is generally considerable uncertainty about the magnitude, direction and timing of those effects and their subsequent impact on the budget.

    In most cases, the PBO’s approach to the broader economic effect of policy proposals is to include a qualitative statement when a policy proposal could have material broader economic impacts that may affect budget outcomes and cannot be estimated.  We consider incorporating quantitative estimates of broader economic impacts into policy costings in limited circumstances where there is compelling evidence of the direction, size and timing of a material economy wide impact, where the way the proposal would be funded has been made clear, and where the broader economic impact can be estimated in a cost effective manner.

    Further details of the PBO approach to the broader economic effects of policy proposals can be found in the PBO information paper Including broader economic effects in policy costings, available on the Information papers page of the PBO website.

  10. 18. Why may the PBO cost of a policy proposal change over time?

    Policy costings are estimated at a point in time, using the data, models and judgements that are available at that time.  These determinants of the cost of a policy proposal can change over time, changing the estimated cost of a policy proposal, sometimes substantially.

    Changes in a costing estimate, whether estimated by the PBO or the government, can arise because of one, or a number, of the following factors:

    •    there are changes to the growth rates or other economic parameters used in the costing as assessments of the outlook for the economy change, such as when the budget is released
    •    new policies announced by the government change the baseline used for the policy costing
    •    new data become available or historical data are revised
    •    new information becomes available to inform the judgements used to make the assumptions that underpin a costing, such as a court ruling that alters the interpretation of a piece of legislation
    •    additional years are added to the costing horizon
    •    changes are made to the details of the parliamentarian’s policy specification, such as the start date for the proposal
    •    changes are made to the methodology or model used to generate the costing as new information is used to improve costing models.

    Government estimates of the impact of policy proposals also change over time, both as a policy proposal is being developed and, if adopted, after the estimated impact is announced in the budget.   In most cases, however, the only time that the financial impacts of government policy measures are reported is when they are first listed as a measure in the budget.  Subsequent changes in the cost of budget measures are incorporated in subsequent budgets but are not separately identified or transparently illustrated, even when the policy has not been legislated or implemented.  Rather, changes in the costs of all previously announced policy proposals are presented along with a wide range of other adjustments under an aggregate budget line item called ‘parameter and other variations’.  Only in situations where a policy comprises an entire program can the updated costs of the policy sometimes be tracked through the reporting of program costs.

    The PBO is open and transparent in its advice to parliamentarians about the reasons why its policy costings for a particular policy proposal change over time.  Because costings can change, all PBO costings come with an ‘expiry date’, which is usually the date of the next budget or mid-year update, after which it would be prudent to re-examine the estimated cost of the policy proposal.

    The published changes in the PBO’s estimates do not reflect upon the quality of PBO estimates relative to those published by government or have any bearing on the merits of the policy proposal itself.

  11. 19. Why doesn’t the PBO release its costing minutes when parties announce the policy?

    The PBO is bound by legislation to keep information relating to most costing requests confidential.  The PBO does not comment on the contents of confidential requests or our responses.

    Under our legislation, Parliamentarians are able to submit confidential requests for costings prior to the commencement of the caretaker period. The PBO cannot disclose any information about a confidential request unless the parliamentarian who made the request specifies that it is not to be treated as confidential and/or releases the PBO costing response in full.  We publish a copy of all PBO costing responses that are not subject to the confidentiality provisions on the Costings page of the PBO website.

    Our general election guidance number 3, ‘Costing policy proposals during the caretaker period’, discusses the approach the PBO takes to ensure that we, and the information or advice we prepare, are referenced correctly.

    In accordance with our legislation, following the election, the PBO publishes a report that presents the budget impacts of each of the election commitments of the major parliamentary parties, including their aggregate impact on the fiscal position (see FAQs 27 to 31).

  12. 20. Where can I find the costing minutes that have been publicly released?

    All publicly released PBO costings or budget analyses are available on the Costings page of the PBO website. The costings page includes costings that have been publicly released either because they were not requested on a confidential basis, or were released following advice from the parliamentarian that the request is no longer to be treated as confidential.

    In addition, PBO costings of publicly announced election policies are available from the Election commitments report page on the PBO website. This page contains links to the PBO’s Election commitments report for past elections. The Election commitments report presents the budget impacts of the election commitments of major parliamentary parties, and of minor parties and independents if they choose to opt in.

  13. 21. Does a PBO costing mean that the PBO endorses the policy it has costed?

    No.  The PBO provides impartial and independent estimates of the financial impact of policy proposals on the budget, as well as other factual information on the effects of a policy, if requested.  It does not provide advice on the merits or otherwise of the policies that it examines.

  14. 22. What is the difference between a costing and budget analysis?

    The PBO undertakes both policy costings and requests for budget analysis for parliamentarians.  A costing is an assessment of the fiscal impact of a policy proposal relative to the baseline published in the most recent budget or mid-year update.

    Budget analysis is other information that the PBO can be asked to provide about the budget or fiscal policy settings.  Examples of budget analysis would include:

    •    information about the amount of money allocated to particular programs, including the amount that has already been spent and the amounts yet to be spent
    •    details of the profile of spending on government programs over time
    •    details of the different sub-components of spending on government programs or sub-components of revenue measures.

    Budget analysis could also include an assessment of the fiscal impact of a policy proposal relative to a different baseline from that presented in the most recent budget or mid-year update.  This could include an assessment of the fiscal impact of a proposed policy relative to an updated baseline, where the updated baseline takes into account the impact of a government policy that was announced or legislated after the most recent budget or mid-year update.

  15. 23. What is the difference between the forward estimates period and the medium term?

    The forward estimates period is the period over which the government presents its budget estimates.  It includes the budget year, which commences on 1 July following the budget, and the following three years.  Within this period, the first two years are ‘forecast’ years, where estimates are based on detailed economic forecasts for the economy, and the second two years are ‘projection’ years where the estimates are based assumptions about the broader trends in the economy.

    The medium-term estimates include the budget year and the following ten years.  Looking at a longer time period captures the impact of government policies that have significantly different impacts on the budget after the forward estimates period.  At the aggregate level, this gives a more complete picture of the sustainability of the budget.  The medium-term estimates are based on an internally consistent set of projections for growth in the economy.

    The PBO prepares detailed projections of receipts and payments over the medium term to explain the main drivers of changes in the budget balance, net debt, and net financial worth that can be expected to arise from current government policy settings over a longer time period.  These are published each year in the PBO’s Medium-term projections reports, which are available from the Research reports page of the PBO website.

  16. 24. How reliable are the PBO’s cost estimates?

    PBO costings estimate the financial impact of policy proposals on the budget over the next decade and take into account significant behavioural responses to policy proposals.  Our memorandum of understanding arrangements with government agencies (see FAQ 13) allow the PBO to have access to the data and models that are used to prepare the budget.

    Consistent with the government’s budget estimates, the inherent uncertainty associated with economic, demographic and societal change mean that there is uncertainty associated with any costing, including those undertaken by the PBO.  This uncertainty will depend on the details of the policy proposal being costed, the reliability of the baseline budget data, the availability of information to help develop cost estimates and the likelihood of behavioural responses, among other factors.   

    To assist readers understand factors that may affect specific costings we include, in each costing minute, information about the sources and level of uncertainty in each costing.  Further information on uncertainty in costings can be found in the PBO’s information paper Factors influencing the reliability of policy proposal costings.

  17. 25. How long does a PBO costing remain current?

    All PBO costings have an ‘expiry date’, which is usually the date of the next budget update. Care should be taken when referring to policy costings that are no longer current as the estimated cost of the policy proposal could change substantially with new information.

    Budget and data updates usually occur every six to twelve months, meaning that costings generally have a shelf life of around six months, sometimes less. If you would like advice on whether the estimated financial impacts of a costing remain relevant, please contact the PBO.

    See the FAQ on 18. Why may the PBO cost of a policy proposal change over time? for details of why costings go out of date.

  18. 26. Does the PBO provide distributional analysis for its costings and budget analyses?

    Distributional analysis can be a useful tool to gain important insights into how policy changes affect discrete populations, along dimensions like age, gender or income. 

    Distributional analysis is an important part of a number of PBO costings and budget analyses. Examples can be found on the PBO’s publicly released costings or budget analyses outside the caretaker period page here. For example, the budget analysis Loss of public revenue and a distributional analysis of the tax cuts packages shows a breakdown of the revenue cost by taxable income quintiles. Similarly, the budget analyses Personal Income Tax Plan (Part 1) and Personal Income Tax Plan (Part 2) also present the financial implications of personal income tax cuts by gender.  In addition, PBO research reports highlight budget-related issues and trends to improve the understanding of budget and fiscal policy matters, and often consider distributional impacts. For example, the 2019-20 Medium-term fiscal projections, Report no. 03/2019 included distributional analysis of the impact of the personal income tax changes in the 2018-19 and 2019-20 budgets, in addition to an analysis of bracket creep on taxable income quintiles over the period from 2017-18 to 2028-29.

    The PBO does not produce distributional analysis for every request. Rather, parliamentarians must request distributional analysis of a policy proposal or a budget measure or program by specifying such supplementary analysis in the request template here. The PBO has limited resources available and gives priority to the analysis identified as important by the parliamentarian making a request. Further information about how to specify distributional analysis details can be found in the costing and budget analysis request templates and Guidance note 01/2021 here.

    It should be noted that distributional analysis is not always possible, or meaningful, for all costings or budget analyses. The main limiting factors to the PBO undertaking distributional analysis relate to data availability, data quality and the predictive power of historical data (see Guidance note 01/2021 for further details here). 

    Historical data analysis is one area where the PBO can provide insights into distributional issues, provided the data exists and that we can access it. For example, transfer payments such as JobSeeker and the Age Pension, subsidies such as Medicare or Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme rebates, and revenue sources such as Personal Income Tax are good examples of areas where data to support distributional analyses are available to us. In other cases, particularly where payments are made to service providers rather than to individuals, the necessary administrative data may not be readily available.

    In the election commitments report (see FAQ 8), parties and independents may request the inclusion of distributional analysis of individual election commitments. Where distributional analysis has been previously requested from the PBO as part of a costing request outside the caretaker period, parties and independents may choose to retain this information in the updated published costing of their commitment in the election commitments report.

    We encourage parliamentarians and their staff to discuss the intended distributional analysis with the PBO prior to it being formally requested.

The election commitments report

  1. 27. What does the PBO include in the election commitments report it releases after every election?

    The election commitments report includes costings of all the election commitments for major parliamentary parties that the Parliamentary Budget Officer considers would have a material impact on the Australian Government budget, and the overall impact of the costings. A major parliamentary party is any party with at least five members in the parliament when the election is called (currently the Coalition, Australian Labor Party and the Australian Greens). Minor parties and independent parliamentarians may choose to be included in this report, with the results published in the report or later as an addendum.

    The election commitments report is required to include the total combined impact of each party’s election commitments on the budget for the current financial year and the following three financial years (the forward estimates period). It may include other information in addition to these statutory requirements. For each party whose election commitments are included in the report, the report provides:

    •    the individual and combined impacts of election commitments over the medium-term period (the budget year and the next ten years)
    •    the aggregate impact of all election commitments over the medium-term for each party, both in dollar terms and a proportion of gross domestic product (GDP), and the resulting final levels of key budget aggregates as a proportion of GDP for each party
    •    full costing documentation for all election commitments, including the policy specification, assumptions, costing method and data sources, with the exception of those commitments that are specified as providing capped levels of funding.
    •    distributional impacts of election commitments, where parties that have previously requested those impacts as part of a PBO costing outside the caretaker period have elected to retain them.

    Major parliamentary parties are not required to have their election commitments costed by the PBO before they announce them, although they can choose to do so. Differences between announcements by parties and the PBO’s election commitments report can arise for a number of reasons:

    •    The PBO costing in the election commitments report may be based on more recent data or economic parameters than the party’s costing.
    •    The costing base, against which the policy costing is prepared, may have changed since the party’s costing was prepared. For instance, a government decision to increase funding for a program may reduce the cost of a policy commitment to ‘top up’ that program to a specified level of support.
    •    The PBO may identify additional elements with financial implications in the election commitments as part of their election commitment tracking (see FAQ 28).

    The total cost of a party’s election platform could differ from the sum of all the individual components published by the party as policies can interact with each other and the PBO takes significant interactions between commitments into account when costing the overall impact of election platforms.

  2. 28. Who decides which election commitments will be included in the election commitments report?

    The Parliamentary Budget Officer decides which commitments should be included in the election commitments report, based on announcements made by the parties prior to polling day and any associated fiscal impact. 

    The PBO’s legislation sets out how the Parliamentary Budget Officer must seek and may take into account feedback from parliamentary parties. 

    •    parliamentary parties must submit a list of their election commitments to the PBO on the day before polling day and the PBO must publish these on the day after polling day.
    •    The PBO separately tracks and identifies election commitments made by parties during the campaign and must provide its list to each party within three days after the end of the caretaker period. The PBO’s list could differ from that submitted by a party if the PBO identifies more or fewer announced election commitments, or difference between the announced and listed version of commitments.
    •    Parties can comment on the PBO’s lists and the PBO must include parties’ comments in the report.

  3. 29. Why are some election commitments not in the report?

    The Parliamentary Budget Officer decides which commitments should be included in the election commitments report, based on announcements made by the parties prior to polling day and any associated fiscal impact. For an announcement to be included as an election commitment in the Election commitments report, it must meet a few key criteria. 

    •    The commitment must have a material impact on the Australian Government budget. For major parties, we typically present all commitments with a non-zero impact. An example of commitments which may not meet this requirement include regulatory changes, which can often have zero cost if they can be administered using the current regulatory arrangements. Similarly, some commitments might have no impact because they are already factored into the budget.
    •    The commitment must have been publicly announced. This may include announcements made before and during the caretaker period.
    •    The announcement must have been made by a candidate for or a member of the parliamentary party. This may include current sitting parliamentarians who are not contesting the election (for example, current members who are retiring or senators who are partway through their term).
    •    The announcement must be specific enough to cost. Where no firm commitment is made as to the policy mechanism or details that would deliver on the announcement, it may be considered aspirational in nature.

    While a commitment must at least satisfy the above, there may still be judgement involved when determining whether announcements made during the election campaign and not included on the list provided by the party constitute election commitments for the purposes of the report. In forming this judgement, the Parliamentary Budget Officer may consider other factors such as which party member made the statement and the nature of the commitment made.

  4. 30. Why do some costings in the election commitment report have a Department of Treasury of Finance logo?

    During the caretaker period, a party can request a costing from the Department of Finance, the Treasury or the PBO, but not more than one of these.  Costings prepared by the Department of Finance or the Treasury will have a Finance or Treasury logo.  When the PBO uses a Finance or Treasury costing in the election commitment report it uses the relevant department’s costing documentation.  

    The PBO’s legislation does not require the Parliamentary Budget Officer to include the costing documentation prepared by the Treasury or the Department of Finance during the caretaker period if, in the Officer’s professional judgement, it is considered more appropriate to include a new costing.  The PBO can also choose to use the costing documentation provided by Treasury or Finance and provide additional information in addenda to those costings.

    Where a costing prepared by the Treasury or the Department of Finance during the caretaker period does not include the financial impacts over the medium term, the PBO will prepare a supplementary costing that includes the financial impacts over the medium term.

  5. 31. What is the baseline of the costings that are in the election commitments report?

    The Pre-election economic and fiscal outlook (PEFO) provides the budget baseline that is used for all election commitment costings.  This is prepared by the Secretaries of the Departments of Finance and the Treasury.  It is published within 10 days of an election being called and provides an up‑to‑date picture of the economic and fiscal outlook.

    The PBO costs all election commitments and party election platforms relative to this baseline, so the election commitment report shows whether a party’s platform, if implemented in full, would improve or deteriorate the budget relative to the situation that was expected before the election.

Unlegislated measures

  1. 32. What is an unlegislated measure?

    An ‘unlegislated measure’ is a policy that has been announced by the Government and included in its latest budget or mid-year update, but is not yet legislated by the Parliament.  The costs of, or savings from, the measure that have been allowed for in the budget cannot be realised until the legislation is passed. 

    For example, suppose that in the budget the Government proposes saving money by restricting access to a legislated spending program. This budget proposal is an ‘unlegislated measure’ if Parliament needs to change the law to realise the savings. The savings from this measure are included in the budget but if the Government cannot get the legislation passed, they would not be realised and the budget estimates would need to be adjusted accordingly. 

    Not all budget measures require legislation.  The measures that do are of interest because they can have large effects on the budget that depend on the parliamentary process.

  2. 33. Why does the PBO publish the estimated costs of unlegislated measures?

    Publishing regular information about measures that could increase or decrease the budget by a significant amount is consistent with the PBO’s role of enhancing public understanding of the budget.  Publishing information about large unlegislated measures improves public understanding of risks to the budget that arise from measures that are held up in the Parliament.

  3. 34. Does the PBO provide updated financial estimates for all unlegislated measures?

    No. The PBO’s publication focuses on unlegislated policies (often referred to as ‘measures’) with significant financial implications. Assessment of measures for inclusion in the report is based on information provided by the Department of Finance.

    Specifically, the unlegislated measures reports from 2019 onwards include any unlegislated measure that would have:

    •    increased or decreased the underlying cash balance by at least $100 million in any year of the forward estimates period when it was announced, and
    •    appeared in a budget or mid-year update more than one year ago, or within the past year but with a start date that has now passed.

  4. 35. How often does the PBO publish the information on the budget impact of unlegislated measures?

    The PBO has published estimates of the budget impact of unlegislated measures since May 2015. From 2019, the PBO will generally publish updates in the first quarter of each calendar year, with a possible second publication in the third quarter if there are significant changes since the previous publication.  For 2022, the PBO will seek to publish an update of the unlegislated measures report after the 2022-23 Budget, following the provision of updated information from the Department of Finance.

  5. 36. Why do the estimated costs of some unlegislated measures change over time?

    The PBO estimates the budget impact of unlegislated measures at the time it publishes each update. These updates use the latest data, models and economic forecasts, and account for interactions with policy settings in the most recent baseline.

    Frequently answered question 18 provides further details about why costing estimates for measures may change over time.