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).
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.