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Treasury Payback to Minister?

By jemmy - 5 July 2007 18

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.

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.

What’s Your opinion?


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18 Responses to
Treasury Payback to Minister?
Ralph 2:50 pm 05 Jul 07

You can all go look at the documents, they are on the channel 7 web site.

Sasha 2:36 pm 05 Jul 07

Thanks Mr Caruso. To my knowledge, Treasury mandarins have a nicer view …

Woody Mann-Caruso 2:26 pm 05 Jul 07

As for Ralph, I doubt very much that he is a (budding) Treasury mandarin

These pics look like they were taken from a window overlooking Langton Crescent. ;>

Sasha 2:01 pm 05 Jul 07

On the other hand Caf, he may be guilty as charged …

The “dirty dog” comes to mind!

caf 1:56 pm 05 Jul 07

get your hand off it

Ralph 1:45 pm 05 Jul 07

Indeed love, too busy……..

Sasha 1:33 pm 05 Jul 07

The line between economic information and (its implied) policy consequences is sometimes very blurred – particularly in this case. That is if economic stats show that the mortgage burden is higher under this administration than under the previous administration and, in addition, there is the wiff of an election in the air then the policy consequences are obvious. The devil is of course in the detail eg if people are more highly leveraged now than under previous administrations then there may be an element of personal choice that has nothing to do with Government policy but the policy consequences may be the same.
Not being privy to either the economic information or the Treasury minutes themselves, I am unable to speak authoritively about the alleged “leak” of the documents or their contents except to say that my guess is that the area charged with their responsibility and their release under the FOI Act would have been well aware of their sensitivity and the damage their release would have done to the Treasurer and the Government. In view of this, I think there would be almost no circumstances that I can envisage that the documents would have been released without the Minister’s approval. Actually, I can envisage no circumstances in which such a scenario would happen. The body count would be well known and too high.

As for Ralph, I doubt very much that he is a (budding) Treasury mandarin. Such people would be too busy to spend time on this site!

jemmy 1:30 pm 05 Jul 07

Rereading my reply to Ralph, I apologise if it sounds sarcastic. I genuinely meant it to be read as tongue-in-cheek and funny.

I agree with him and VYB8 about working documents and the press. Imagine if particicpants knew a SWOT analysis would be made public. There is no way the Weaknesses and Threats part would be done properly, thereby defeating the point of it and resulting in a poorer process.

You’ve only got to read Peter Martin’s blog and Ken Henry’s address here to realise how much dept time is consumed when people start worrying about public perception on working matters.

VYBerlinaV8 now_with 11:14 am 05 Jul 07

The problem with inclusion of discussion docs is that the media puts spin on once they receive them. The result is that issues get blown way out of proportion, non-issues become issues, or things that are actually important get missed.

The result of all this is that only two things can happen:
1) Allow discussion papers that contain all sorts of ‘crazy’ or socially unacceptable ideas, for the purposes of progressing an issue to resolution or action, and prevent these papers from being released publically, for fear of the situations described above; or

2) Allow FOI access to these papers, resulting in people not articulating or recording said ideas for fear of the situations described above.

Having worked with government departments for a number of years, I have found that ‘crazy’ ideas sometimes have to get thrown on the table to progress an issue towards a sensible resolution. Govt departments need to be able to go through this process, without fear of retribution from our sensationalist and unaccountable media over something that is actually nothing.

sepi 10:51 am 05 Jul 07

Yep.
What is the point of FOI if discussion docs aren’t included? I don’t see what kind of discussions would be impeded by the knowledge that the public may find out what was said?

jemmy 9:48 am 05 Jul 07

Ralph, from past posts and this, you seem to know a bit about Treasury, perhaps you are a mandarin too? Or at least an up-and-coming cumquat.

I’m sending Henry a present of a steel ruler, would you like one too? I’m happy to send one. You could use it to beat off the commies when they invade your office after November.

Joking aside, all I want is good government process. By my standard, we don’t have it. By the people, for the people, etc. I don’t remember ‘spin’ being mentioned anywhere in the Constitution. Open and accountable, folks, that’s where the power is. Exactly the same as we demand of our company directors.

VYBerlinaV8 now_with 9:47 am 05 Jul 07

Depends on what is being consumed, I think. Fundamentally, most people spend most of what they get, and that will equalise things a bit.

Mr_Shab 9:32 am 05 Jul 07

I thought discouraging consumption was another economic no-no?

VYBerlinaV8 now_with 9:21 am 05 Jul 07

Tax bracket creep is a standard part of an income-based tax. Arguments about whether or not it’s fair are a waste of time – it’s simply the way things are.

My personal opinion is that we should do away with income tax for individuals altogether, and tax on consumption alone. That way those who live a sensible and frugal lifestyle will benefit, and those who choose to indulge will foot the bill. Probably a bit simplistic, but a nice idea nontheless.

Ralph 8:20 am 05 Jul 07

Reading between the lines, it appears Treasury released this politically damaging information without consulting Minister Costello.

You’re wrong son.

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.

You’d be surprised, sometimes these positions are mutually agreed.

There’s a difference between economic information, and the development of opinion and policy advice. Personally this shouldn’t be released as knowing you might up for FOI at some point can stymie considred analysis and policy development.

FOI is fine when it comes to personal information. I think the line should be drawn at internal analysis and advice. This is private and between departments and ministers.

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.

Wrong again son.

What was contained in the document released, and what was reported in the media is separated by a gaping casm.

Said journalist used a very large amount of creative licence to come to the conculsions that he made.

Now nothing more to see here, move along people.

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