Friday, 13 August 2010

Not a matter of if, but when

Our whole system of government has come to a pretty pass if the Coalition really does believe that it cannot trust the officials of the Commonwealth Treasury to act with fairness and integrity in carrying out their duties to cost election promises. What has upset the shadow Treasurer Joe Hockey and Finance Minister Andrew Robb is a newspaper story alleging that a Treasury analysis of one promised project found a sizeable mistake in the Coalition's costings. Send in the Federal Police to find the villain responsible for the leak is what the Opposition pair have shouted and until that happens no more proposals will be submitted for costing.
Now there's no doubt that the leaker involved has acted in a quite disreputable fashion. The frequent defence of the whistleblower is that unauthorised disclosure was necessary so there would be an informed public does not apply in this case as there would have been disclosure when Treasury fulfilled its obligation to report publicly on its costings. All that has happened is that the disclosure has come sooner rather than later. Thus, the suspicion that the real concern of Messrs Hockey and Robb is that they fear their claims of fiscal restraint to  bring down the budget deficit at a quicker pace than Labor would be exposed by this budget honesty process.
Whatever their concern, the consequence of alleging that they do not trust the independence and impartiality of Treasury officials are potentially serious. Are we henceforth to have a wholesale replacement of senior public servants so they can be replaced by loyal toadies? And won't the consequence of that be that we have more lower level public servants getting in to the leaking business with their conscience being clear because unauthorised disclosure is the only way that the truth will ever get out?
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