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.
The 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.
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 below).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.