Thursday, 26 August 2010

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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