20 Aug 2019

Govt wants independent watchdog to keep eye on election campaign policy costings

7:59 pm on 20 August 2019

The creation of an independent entity to make sure political parties aren't fudging their figures in election campaigns is a step closer.

Stack of New Zealand Dollar

The problem of political parties disputing each others costing was highlighted in the 2017 election. Photo: 123RF

Cabinet has recommended that the Parliamentary Budget Office (PBO) is given the status of an Officer of Parliament - which would mean it is completely independent and non-partisan, like the Ombudsmen or Auditor-General.

The problem of political parties disputing each others costing was highlighted in the 2017 election, when the former National Party MP Steven Joyce claimed Labour had an $11 billion fiscal hole.

The PBO is designed to monitor the government's fiscal strategy as well as provide independent costings of political party policies.

Finance Minister Grant Robertson at the announcement of the details for the gun buy-back scheme.

Grant Robertson. Photo: RNZ / Dom Thomas

Finance Minister Grant Robertson said the PBO was in the interest of both political parties and the public.

"This is common place around the world, we're actually catching up with the rest of the world in having this kind of office," he said.

The current proposal would mean someone who got three percent or more of the vote in the last election would be able to access the service.

The PBO's creation is part of the Green Party's confidence and supply agreement.

Associate Finance Minister James Shaw said the independent budget office would mean more transparency about what political parties were promising to do and fewer political games played.

The proposal has been put to to the Officers of Parliament Committee, chaired by Speaker Trevor Mallard, to reach a consensus.

It will make its decision in the coming weeks.

National says government 'screwing the scrum'

National Party Leader Simon Bridges said he would oppose it every step of the way, because he doesn't trust the government.

"They want to illegitimately, undemocratically screw the scrum on the opposition," Mr Bridges said.

He said he felt that way because he had asked for a Treasury official to help with costing and economic policies and holding the government to account.

"I feel like we have been obstructed from the get go. If they won't even supply me with a secondee at the opposition's own cost, how can I trust them with a supposedly independent institution?"

It's understood while there was a delay for National to be offered a Treasury Official but when one was offered, National rejected the person, saying they weren't what it was looking for.

Mr Robertson said he was extremely disappointed Mr Bridges didn't want more transparency.

He said if the proposal didn't get the approval of the committee, the government would look at other possible options.

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