That Treasury secretary Ken Henry is clearly prepared to give fearless advice was shown by his speech yesterday to a group of business economists. He not only defended the proposed super profits tax on mining companies but did so in a way that will make it very difficult for the Labor government to retreat from it if it ever wanted to. The best the mining industry can hope for now is that the government changes before legislation is actually passed.
But given that the opposition has indicated it is against the introduction of what it calls a big new tax, Dr Henry’s direct intervention into the political process should raise a few questions as to what kind of public service we now have. In the old theory, fearless advice was delivered in an independent and impartial fashion and in private. That convention has clearly gone by the board without new rules about the roles of departmental secretaries being enunciated. That is not a healthy development.