We continued to publish a range of high-quality reports to improve budget transparency and promote a better public understanding of the budget and fiscal policy settings, while necessarily reducing our output in this area to focus on costing and election-related work.
Our research program comprises a number of regular publications along with some additional research reports, as outlined in our corporate plan. During 2018–19 we released four regular reports.
- 2018–19 MYEFO snapshot and 2019–20 Budget snapshot – provided graphical summaries of the Budget and Mid-year Economic and Fiscal Outlook (MYEFO) and highlighted the impacts of policy decisions and parameter changes.
- 2018–19 Budget: medium-term projections – reported on the budget outlook over the coming decade to look beyond the four-year projections provided in the budget, including projections of receipts and payments, and analysis of the major trends in, and risks to, the medium-term outlook.
- National fiscal outlook: As at 2018–19 Budget (and its related At a glance graphical summary) – provided a national perspective on fiscal challenges over the short term by examining outcomes across all levels of government.
Our fifth regular publication is a detailed chart pack that analyses the key changes in
the budget at the level of major revenue and expenditure items. While we generally aim to publish this chart pack within a month of the budget, it was deferred due to the prioritisation of election preparation and costings and will be published early in 2019–20.
We also reprised our report that summarises the impact of unlegislated measures on the budget. This publication provides estimates of the medium-term impact on the budget of measures with significant financial implications that have been announced but are yet to be implemented.
Our budget-related publications are regular and publicly-anticipated fixtures on our publication program and serve to improve public understanding of the budget and enhance transparency. They also look at issues not routinely examined in existing budget publications, such as detailed projections over a longer timeframe than the budget documents provide.
We published several additional research reports in 2018–19, focusing on important issues affecting the budget.
- Trends affecting the sustainability of Commonwealth taxes – an analysis of the broad trends within the Commonwealth tax system and the associated implication for the budget.
- Net debt and investment funds – Trends and balance sheet implications – an analysis of the use of net debt as an indicator of the long-term sustainability of the budget and the impact of government investment funds on net debt calculations.
- Australia’s ageing population – Understanding the fiscal impacts over the next decade – an analysis of the impacts of an ageing population on major revenue and expenditure items over the next decade.
We continued to publish underlying data for our research reports, where relevant, to enable others to directly analyse the data to draw their own conclusions or re-present specific aspects of our report. This further supports public understanding and transparency of the budget.
Our research work is positioned and strengthened through consultation with a range of external parties.
- In developing our program for the year, we sought input from our expert panel and consulted with the JCPAA and other parliamentary committees on our proposed program.
- Individual members of our expert panel reviewed specific publications ahead of their release, or connected us to key academic or industry experts to provide feedback.
- We consulted with relevant Commonwealth agencies ahead of releasing specific reports to confirm the factual accuracy of our analysis.
We measure the impact and relevance of our research program by the impact the publications have in the media and in Parliament. Our five largest releases during the year all received multiple references through major media outlets, as detailed in Figure 6. Figure 4 shows total media mentions for the PBO (including all aspects of our operations) and our analysis of this shows increases in media activity mentioning the PBO immediately following the release of a report. We are also increasing our engagement with media outlets immediately following the release of publications. By discussing questions that journalists have, we help to improve the understanding of our publications and maximise the opportunity for them to build public understanding of issues impacting the budget. This also reduces the risk that an important publication gains limited traction due to unforeseen events in the news cycle at the time of release.
Three of our five major publications were also specifically mentioned in sessions of Parliament. One of the reports that was not mentioned, Australia’s ageing population – Understanding the fiscal impacts over the next decade, was released only days before the final sitting day of the 45th Parliament. References to our publications in Parliament are one means by which we can assess that our research is relevant to our stakeholders and reflects current issues of public importance.
Figure 6: Media mentions of PBO publications in 2018-19
The relevance of our reports is also indicated by the number of times they are downloaded from our website. During 2018–19 there were almost 70,000 downloads from our website (2017–18: 53,143).
We have increased opportunities for our stakeholders to provide feedback on our publications. Each report now invites feedback by providing a feedback email address. This is promoted on each report’s web page and in the body of the reports themselves. This will assist us in the future to make improvements to our reports based on the comments received. Our next stakeholder survey, planned for around the mid-term of the 46th Parliament, will seek feedback on the relevance and usability of our research products.