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What if we had a Policy Costings Unit for all political parties?

Written By: - Date published: 6:10 am, August 21st, 2020 - 22 comments
Categories: election 2020, greens - Tags: ,

For some reason yesterday I thought of the Green Party’s Policy Costings Unit idea, where political parties could get their policies costed by Treasury and then the results are made available to the public when the policy is launched.

This was Green Party policy going into the 2017 election.

New Zealanders deserve more transparency from their politicians so they can better engage in the political system. Having party policies independently costed will help to cut through the noise of political party promises and deliver New Zealanders unbiased information.

The PCU would be an independent unit within the Treasury and be available to all parliamentary parties.

Further details of the Policy Costings Unit (PCU):

  1. The PCU will function within the Treasury and will run like all other divisions within Treasury. However, the PCU will be exempt from reporting to the Minister to maintain confidentiality of Party policies.
  2. Once a policy has been released by the political party, the costings prepared by the PCU will be proactively released.
  3. The PCU will be subject to OIA requirements unless the policy is to be released publically by political parties in the near future, in which case it will be exempt under s18 (d) of the OIA Act.
  4. The PCU will be open to all parties within Parliament initially, with hopes of expansion to parties outside Parliament in the future.
  5. The PCU will be a permanent fixture in the Treasury with extra resources added during election years to meet demand.
  6. The cost is estimated to be $1-2 million per year, increasing to $2-3 million a year during election year to account for increased staff.
  7. The ability for political parties to get policy costed already exists in the Treasury, but permission must be obtained from Ministers.

Hard to understand why all political parties aren’t all over this. Not only would policies be more likely to make financial and economic sense rather than being so much opportunistic blather, it might help prevent embarrassments like these,

[tweet https://twitter.com/publicaddress/status/1296329811070091265]

[tweet https://twitter.com/NZedAUS/status/1296522625678598144]

The Policy Costings Unit policy didn’t seem to survive the 2017 post-election negotiations, but in August 2019 Grant Robertson and James Shaw announced the Parliamentary Budget Office, covered by Henry Cooke at Stuff.

In this version, the office would operate as an Officer of Parliament separate from Treasury and governments-of-the-day.

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

This makes it as independent as the Auditor General, the Ombudsman, and Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment.

Unsurprisingly National had this to say,

“I oppose it because I don’t trust the Government on it. I think it is an opportunity they see to illegitimately, undemocratically screw the scrum on the Opposition,” Bridges said.

There’s some nonsense in the Stuff piece about National not getting a Treasury secondee for their office, therefore they wouldn’t trust an independent Office for policy costings. They blocked the PBO in the Select Committee.

Shaw said that Bridges comments were “a continuation of his strategy of saying you can’t rely on independent experts you can only rely on what he says.”

“The more he can destroy faith in objective independent analysis the easier it becomes for him to spread misinformation and win the next election, which is clearly what his strategy is.”

Meanwhile, yesterday, National announced their border control policy,

[tweet https://twitter.com/publicaddress/status/1296330239149084672]

Maybe National like having secret experts. Or invisible ones. Or vague hand wave over there ones. Or something.

Final words to Shaw,

“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,” 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 PBO is intended to be functional by July 2021.

22 comments on “What if we had a Policy Costings Unit for all political parties? ”

  1. Ad 1

    Aren't they supposed to work it out from the previous national budgets 5 months, previous, together with the PREFU?

    Our national budgets are now officially up the shit anyway.

  2. Kay 2

    Except that only being able to make election promises that are fiscally feasible just isn't as fun, is it? cheeky

  3. tc 3

    A great idea that would've shown RONS as the lolly scramble it was.

    all the rest have suffered due to inadequate maintenance taken to mainatin poorly built RONS.

  4. Peter 4

    I wrote to a senior opposition MP about a major policy they'd announced seeking an idea of the costs.

    In chess parlance, you can seem to be one of the important pieces on the board, like a Bishop, but in reality be inferior to a pawn with it's brain taken out and replaced by an arsehole.

    His 'non-reply' reply, needless to say, was a code for, "We don't know, we're just saying stuff which will sound impressive to the electorate. You can trust us."

  5. Draco T Bastard 5

    meaning that political parties have access to the same resources to give the public consistent and independent information.

    And there we have the reason why National are against it. They don't want a level playing field – they want a playing field tilted in their favour.

    • Andre 5.1

      If it was a part of Treasury, it would still be ideologically tilted in the Nats favour.

      • Draco T Bastard 5.1.1

        To me that is part of the problem. If they get economists and accountants in to do it its going to be ideologically tilted in the Nats favour no matter what.

        I suppose it depends upon the actual instructions given and to what extent the unit looks at how the policy affects other factors across the economy and society.

      • PsyclingLeft.Always 5.1.2

        Yea that kinda got me about Don Brash Reserve Bank Governor…Neolib and Nat Leader….

  6. Roy Cartland 6

    This is so obviously a good idea that it's embarrassing that it isn't done already.

  7. Stuart Munro 7

    Some political parties depend on their ability to deceive voters – and Treasury, who would presumably handle the costings, are not above putting their fingers on the scale.

    It may be recalled that when the GFC was at its height, and Russel Norman called for the kind of quantitative easing all our trading partners were doing, the idea was rubbished, so that NZ instead borrowed heavily, incurring massive interest bills to the ANZ, which 'coincidentally' rewarded the then PM with an after-politics sinecure.

  8. ScottGN 8

    I wonder what happened to the proposal to establish a Parliamentary Budget Office along the lines of the one they have in Ottawa? Wouldn’t that have covered this?

  9. Grafton Gully 9

    I'm cunning enough to get by and as for policy costings well who gives a fuck and what the fuck is voting ?

  10. NZ treasury are occupied by economists.

    How many treasury forecasts have been remotely accurate?

    10% Possible

    90% Not likely

    50% doubtful.

    Who is counting? The Audit Office? I wish.

    Treasury provides all political parties , and the desperate chattering class with enough bs to keep us in the fond belief that governments know what they are doing.

    Treasury is a propaganda department.

    Why do we trust treasury?

    Our governments rely on economists.

    If all the economists in the world were laid end to end they would never reach a conclusion.

    • weka 10.1

      Did you read the post? The PBO will be independent, outside of Treasury and separate from the govt.

      • peter sim 10.1.1

        The post clearly stated the pbo is part of treasury.

        • weka

          "In this version, the office would operate as an Officer of Parliament separate from Treasury and governments-of-the-day."

          • peter sim

            What the hell does "in this version " mean?

            I have no idea what you are talking about.

            I am trying to talk about a pcb in treasury.

            How many versions of truth do you have?

            Are you a nact troll?

            • weka

              Dude, I wrote the fucking post. The Greens ran the idea of a unit within Treasury, before the last election. In 2019, Labour the Greens announced a different plan, a unit outside of Treasury. Which is what the post is about.

              Rant all you like about Treasury, but the PBO starting next year won't be there.

  11. KJT 11

    Need a full cost/benefit analysis for policies. The idea that anything Government does is a "cost" is what has made the current Neo-liberal, mess.

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