Liberals smearing of Treasury is dangerous nonsense

Mr Abbott’s excuses for not enabling such important economic information to be made available to the Independents – who after all do have to make the rather crucial decision as to who should form Australia’s government – are risible. It is a worrying sign for where our democracy might be heading that he is not being pilloried by every political commentator in the country for trying to prevent full scrutiny of his policies and program.

I am astonished that there could even be a single political journalist in the country who could feel there is some justification for Tony Abbott to withhold approval for Treasury to properly assess his election policies, and for the people who have the burden of deciding who will form the next government to have access to Treasury’s assessment.

The very same Treasury Department and officials that Tony Abbott is currently suggesting are either untrustworthy or “couldn’t understand” his policies are the ones who will be required to assist in budgeting for and implementing those policies should Tony Abbott end up as Prime Minister.

The notion that the Liberal-Nationals are worried about a leak is utterly laughable. The election has happened, so leaks can’t affect the outcome. The whole point of the request from the Independents is that they can have access to that information, so even if someone did ‘leak’ any of it, it would make no difference, as they would be ‘leaking’ information that the Independents would see anyway.

The following piece by Richard Farmer outlines very well why this isn’t just another party political dispute. As he says, the Liberal-Nationals’ stance on this matter presents a serious governance problem for our country.  (The link to his original article is here, but you have to be a Crikey subscriber to view it – which means I am almost certainly breaking copyright laws by reproducing it in full here, so for my penance I strongly encourage you to subscribe to Crikey – which has its flaws, but is none the less an independent media voice at a time when we have so few).

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A real governance problem. (by Richard Farmer)
If Tony Abbott means what he says about not trusting the Federal Treasury then this country really does have a governance problem and it’s nothing to do with how the House of Representatives operates. That the country basically has a public service capable of giving independent and impartial advice to whatever party or coalition is in government is the cornerstone of our democracy.

Apparently the Liberal Party, and presumably the National Party although I have not actually heard its leaders make a comment on the subject, now believes that the Treasury would not make an honest assessment of the economic costs and consequences of the promises it made during the election campaign.

It is hard to think of a more serious attack on the integrity of a group of public servants who are largely the same ones who served the Government of John Howard for more than a decade. The Secretary of the Treasury Dr Ken Henry was appointed to the job in April 2001 and appeared to have the confidence of his ministerial superior Peter Costello until the Coalition was defeated in 2007. Since then the most serious incident that might have undermined confidence in the impartiality and independence of the department was the treacherous way that the then Opposition Leader Malcolm Turnbull was secretly fed incorrect information by a mid-ranking official.

To the great credit of Treasurer Wayne Swan there was no over reaction to Godwin Grech’s madness. Dr Henry was not held to be responsible nor the whole bunch of Treasury officials tarred with the Grech brush. But now, supposedly on the evidence of one apparent leak casting doubt on the accuracy of Liberal costing of an election promise, the Treasury as a body is not to be trusted.

I fear that the Liberals involved — Tony Abbott, Joe Hockey and Andrew Robb — do not realise the potential for their tactic to undermine public confidence in the whole system of government. Hopefully one day not too far away they will apologise for their stupidity.

A real governance problem. If Tony Abbott means what he says about not trusting the Federal Treasury then this country really does have a governance problem and it’s nothing to do with how the House of Representatives operates. That the country basically has a public service capable of giving independent and impartial advice to whatever party or coalition is in government is the cornerstone of our democracy.

Apparently the Liberal Party, and presumably the National Party although I have not actually heard its leaders make a comment on the subject, now believes that the Treasury would not make an honest assessment of the economic costs and consequences of the promises it made during the election campaign.

It is hard to think of a more serious attack on the integrity of a group of public servants who are largely the same ones who served the Government of John Howard for more than a decade. The Secretary of the Treasury Dr Ken Henry was appointed to the job in April 2001 and appeared to have the confidence of his ministerial superior Peter Costello until the Coalition was defeated in 2007. Since then the most serious incident that might have undermined confidence in the impartiality and independence of the department was the treacherous way that the then Opposition Leader Malcolm Turnbull was secretly fed incorrect information by a mid-ranking official.

To the great credit of Treasurer Wayne Swan there was no over reaction to Godwin Grech’s madness. Dr Henry was not held to be responsible nor the whole bunch of Treasury officials tarred with the Grech brush. But now, supposedly on the evidence of one apparent leak casting doubt on the accuracy of Liberal costing of an election promise, the Treasury as a body is not to be trusted.

I fear that the Liberals involved — Tony Abbott, Joe Hockey and Andrew Robb — do not realise the potential for their tactic to undermine public confidence in the whole system of government. Hopefully one day not too far away they will apologise for their stupidity.

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7 Comments

  1. Mr Abbott’s is readying himself for another election. It is important to him that the public is kept in the dark.

  2. I agree withn you that the reasons being proffered by Abbott for doubting / dodging Treasury are very dodgy and probably were not initially thought through.

    On the other hand the notion that somehow Treasury is the font of all knowledge of matters economic is also baerly capable of sustaing any scrutiny.

    Can you tell me when any forecast budget position, estimated end of year current account, or costing of any (of either persuasion) government program bore any resemblance to actuality.

    We base almost all of our poltical and economic discourse on Estimates, we even call them rightly estimates, and almost without quesiotn they raerly come wihthin a bulls roar of actuals.

  3. That’s true Ken – Treasury budget and costing forecasts usually turn out not to be very accurate. But I expect the same would apply no mater who was doing the forecasting – by its very nature estimating is an imprecise activity. My father was a civil engineer who had to estimate the costs of proposed projects – he sometimes called himself a ‘professional guesser’, albeit slightly tongue in cheek.

    However, regardless of how accurateTreasury is or isn’t, they will be using the same set of assumptions in costing Liberal policies as they will with the Labor ones, so it at least provides a set of estimates made from a common benchmark.

    Also, if the Liberals end up forming government, it will be Treasury that will have to formulate the next Budget around the Liberal’s policies and programs.

  4. I think it has been proven many times over, that we are no longer living in a democracy.

    One night 22+ million viewers saw Julia Gillard hand out folders to 3 Independents. She said they contained Labor’s promises for each of their electorates. So what we are actually getting is televised bribery.

    Lots of people want to go back to the polls, at a cost of $200 million. Some agree with me that the election outcome will still be the same.

    I think a hung parliament is an excellent indicator of the fact that nobody wants to put up with people on either side of an undemocratic, treasonous parliament any more.

    I certainly could not agree that our non-democracy actually has independent public servants as its advisers. We must also remember that Dr Ken Henry wants to assets test people’s homes. Such a move could land even more pensioners on both the street and Foodbank queues.

    Liberals and Australian Democrats want to put a bond on High Care, which could have exactly the same result.

    I think the National Party has hit the skids due to communists running the country. They rated very poorly in pre-election polls. When their hands are tied, they cannot do anything.

    Due to international agreements signed by Labor since the end of WWII, we are now living in what amounts to a screwocracy. That’s where communists in the government keep empowering corporations to collect taxes, fees and charges instead of that income going into government coffers to provide infrastructure.

    This has resulted in the govt having to increasingly charge new consumption taxes of its own. Now, and even more so in the future, we are going to be taxed to the eyeballs as the country and individual citizens all go broke.

    In my view, we are being subjected to the Crush Australia Policy.

  5. Perhaps the Coalition knows these senior Treasury officials are incredibly shady characters because it was the Coalition who appointed them?

    I don’t get why someone from the ALP hasn’t asked Mr Rabbit: “If they’re so bad, why on Earth did you hire them?”

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