There was an interesting article in today’s CT about the mortgage burden being worse than it was during the high interest rates caused by global inflation during the Labor Party’s governments. The interesting aspect for me wasn’t only the higher mortgage burden under this government, it was also that Treasury released 180 pages of documents to the Seven Network under Freedom of Information. Reading between the lines, it appears Treasury released this politically damaging information without consulting Minister Costello.
The issue is that Costello had previously used his blanket powers to refuse release of information on tax bracket creep on the grounds that it would not be in the national interest. How bracket creep relates to the national interest escapes me, although I can certainly see how it relates to the Liberal Party interest. (This was the case that The Australian took to the High Court and lost, thereby condeming the voters and owners of the country to being kept in the dark about their political executives’ performance for any whim that the executive decides.)
If I was a Treasury mandarin, I would have been mightily peeved that the reputation of my department had been sullied by Costello’s spurious rejection. I would be especially annoyed that quite reasonable economic information, that is available only through my department, is withheld on clearly political grounds. Apart from public curiosity, economic information is essential to planning new businesses, investments, projects and infrastructure. I wouldn’t want that information to become restricted.
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Treasury, like the Reserve Bank and the ABS, views one of its vital services as provider of economic information, both statistics and commentary. It takes great pains to ensure the information is accurate and rigourous. This particular task is one of its hats that it wears with pride, usually justifiably so. Then along comes a minister and ruins it.
I wonder if one of those mandarins, perhaps sniffing the political air in the coming election and deciding any downside might only be until November anyway, decided to teach the Minister a lesson and so release this other information, information much more politically damaging than bracket creep and so something that ordinarily one would think would be referred to the Minister, without actually doing the referring bit.
I certainly hope so. I look forward to Treasury’s return to being one of the good-guy departments. Perhaps all mandarins should be issued with a steel-edged ruler to rap occasionally across the knuckles of wayward and recalcitrant ministers.