NZ lacks systems to check political parties' promises, think tank says

Labour had to fight off suggestions of a budget 'black hole'.

Labour had to fight off suggestions of a budget 'black hole'.

Political parties should be required to use consistent, independent methods to give firm details of the financial cost of the policies they promise, think tank NZIER says.

Principal economist Peter Wilson said the public needed to understand the impact of parties' fiscal promises before they went to vote.

He said much of the recent election campaign was tied up in arguments about how the costs of various policies and pledges were determined, not whether the parties' intentions had merits.

 "New Zealanders deserve better that. We propose that before the next election, New Zealand establish a transparent system that will allow voters to judge the costs of promises based on independent and consistent information.

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"We also propose that each election a Parliamentary Commissioner for Policy Costings should be appointed. The commissioner would be an eminent person appointed for a limited period who would have the assistance of experts from the Treasury to undertake detailed costings."

He said the fact there is no official requirement for political policies to be costed by anyone independent made New Zealand something of an outlier. In Australia, details of the costs of parties' promises are provided on a website.

"Larger parties sometimes will get things costed by outsiders but then you get, like Labour did, debate about how their spreadsheets were put together."

New Zealand had world-class systems to hold the government to account for its fiscal policies once it was elected, but no requirement for how political parties made election promises, he said.

"New Zealand isn't at the cutting edge of best practice… New Zealand has a Rolls Royce system with what the government is doing but a tricycle with what happens at elections. There seems to be quite an odd disparity."

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​NZIER said using Treasury staff to prepare estimates of the cost of government programmes for parties would make sense.

"Not only would doing so mean that expertise was being applied to an expert task, but using the same people using the same methodologies will assist in making 'apples for apples' comparisons."

To help them remain politically neutral, NZIER said a former Secretary to the Treasury or Auditor General should be appointed as commissioner on a fixed-term basis before each election, to oversee and manage the process.

 - Stuff

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