In 2011 Australia set up a Parliamentary Budget Office (PBO) to provide an impartial costings of the election commitments of political parties during the campaign period and to assist parties in their costings outside the campaign period.
Canada had set up a similar office in 2006.
The Congressional Budget Office with a much more expansive mandate was established in the US in 1974.
The New South Wales Parliament followed the federal example and set up its own PBO.
In this context the proposal by Metiria Turei to set up an independent costing unit for New Zealand seems very sensible and mainstream.
It is a major change to the conventions around election costings in New Zealand.
The current position as set out by the SSC and Treasury in their guidance for public servants published on their websites in the lead up to the 2014 election is that only the Finance Minister or relevant portfolio minister can request costing of party election promises.
This not an option open to the Opposition or other non-government parties.
In 1998 the Howard Government in Australia introduced the Charter of Budget Honesty Act.
While modelled on New Zealand’s Public Finance Act in providing for a pre-election ‘opening of the books’ it also expressly provided that during the pre-election period the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition could request the Secretaries of the Departments of Treasury and of Finance to prepare costings of their publicly announced policies.
Since the establishment of the PBO in 2011 minor parties can also request costings and parties can approach the PBO instead of Treasury and Finance.