Good Economic Policy & Transparent Costings

I spoke in parliament today about Coalition costings, and the importance of parliament expressing its confidence in Treasury officials.
Confidence in Treasury, 3 June 2013

Too often the crucial work of our nation's public servants goes unnoticed and goes unthanked. As the member for Fraser I am pleased to say that many of these hardworking public servants are my constituents. I myself have been seconded to Treasury and have seen firsthand the hard work of those public servants. We on this side of the House believe in a frank and fearless Public Service in the great Westminster tradition. Those opposite would prefer to have a flaccid and fearful Public Service. That is their ideal of public service.

It is clear why those opposite have spent three years waging a smear campaign against Treasury. It is because they have an ever-widening costings black hole. They are therefore desperate to avoid scrutiny of their costings, and they see the boffins and the bean counters as an obstacle to that. At the 2010 election, the member for North Sydney concocted bogus allegations of Treasury politicisation to avoid submitting coalition policies to Treasury and Finance. Instead, the opposition had their policies costed by a private accounting firm, who overlooked that they had an $11 billion black hole. That private accounting firm was subsequently fined by the Institute of Chartered Accountants for breaching professional standards. Despite that, the member for Goldstein has in this chamber claimed that those faux costings were 'as good as you can get anywhere in the country, including in Treasury'.

On 19 September, I was witness in this chamber to a savage attack by the member for Goldstein against the institution of Treasury and against then Treasury Secretary Ken Henry, who, as honourable members know, was appointed by Treasurer Costello to that position.

The member for Goldstein claimed the $11 billion black hole was:

‘… something fabricated with the use of Treasury officials to give government a political advantage.’

The member for Mackellar—who in 1992 shot to prominence after attacking public servant Trevor Boucher—joined in, saying:

‘… this Parliamentary Budget Office is something that is simply linked to the coattails of Treasury.’

She went on:

‘I made the point that Treasury and the head of Treasury had been rewarded for things that they had done to assist the government … it is politicised and that is why we cannot trust them.’

The member for Mackellar has even said of former Treasury Secretary Ken Henry:

‘He served the government very well in the latter stages of his appointment, particularly when it came to assessing the budget savings that were put forward by the opposition prior to the last election.’

This is like a rich kid who gets a maths question wrong and, instead of accepting the right answer, goes to the principal asking for the teacher to be sacked.

The opposition in the last election were badly out in their costings, and their pretext now is that budget forecasts cannot be relied on. The member for North Sydney has said:

‘The numbers are just not believable. It is fundamentally a dishonest budget.  … I don't believe they are Treasury numbers. They are Wayne Swan's numbers.’

Treasury Secretary Martin Parkinson has directly rejected these allegations. He said on 21 May:

‘I can say on behalf of David Tune, the secretary of the Department of Finance and myself—and get this right—were PEFO to have been released on the 14th of May, it would have contained the numbers that were in the budget.’

PEFO is produced independently by Treasury and Finance in caretaker period without political oversight. Dr Parkinson has told us in crystal clear terms that the numbers in the budget represent the best professional estimates of Treasury and Finance. They have not been tampered with by the Deputy Prime Minister as those opposite would have you believe. They are the best estimates of honest and hardworking public servants.

The member for North Sydney continued his extraordinary slur, saying:

‘I would have expected Martin Parkinson to say nothing different yesterday because he is, quite appropriately, a servant of the government.’

This is continuing in the same vein as the members for Goldstein and Mackellar. He should withdraw that claim. Attacking Treasury is not only unfounded; it is also weak. In public debate, public servants do not have the opportunity to defend themselves as we in this place do. It is wrong to treat them like a political football.

On the other side of politics, Senator Sinodinos, my opposition counterpoint as Parliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Opposition, has worked hard in the Department of Treasury and knows as I do the important work that they do.

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Cnr Gungahlin Pl and Efkarpidis Street, Gungahlin ACT 2912 | 02 6247 4396 | [email protected] | Authorised by A. Leigh MP, Australian Labor Party (ACT Branch), Canberra.