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Thursday, May 14, 2009

Budget papers score some criticisms

The gurus on economics and government finances seem to be too flat out to date to do much in the way of a close assessment of the Federal Budget papers against the Government's own standards of transparency and accountability outlined in the Operation Sunlight policy. But Peter Martin Economics Editor of The Age makes no bones about it overall:
"Tuesday's budget documents were amongst the least-clear on record. Why? Because they began to do stuff and then undid it, and in the rush to put the presentations together they weren't able to properly explain what they were doing. If you click on the link below, it'll take you to what I wrote - and I probably got that some of that wrong too. The presentation was a shemozzle. The opening pages or so the Budget speech are beyond parody. Swan's trick of not even mentioning the size of the deficit/surplus is a first, well almost. As for the forecasts, they may well turn out to be right, or not. What will happen as the economy recovers is fairly forecastable. When that will happen is pretty unforcastable."
Those that know a bit about the Defence Department find those papers disappointing. Geoffrey Barker in yesterday's Australian Financial Review("No defence for secrecy"- no link available) says:
"This year's defence budget has retreated from transparency, accountability and reality with the speed of an Iraqi regiment fleeing into the desert"
Barker points out that in outlining what will happen to $26.6 billion allocated to the Department, one and a half "skimpy" pages describe funding for acquisitions. In releasing the Defence White Paper recently the Government said the Budget would contain full costings for defence capability requirements. Barker quotes the White Paper as declaring:"Australia needs to show by word and deed that it is serious about such transparency" and suggests (Minister) Joel Fitzgibbon "will have the grace to blush over this year's Defence budget."

Mark Thompson of the Australian Strategic Policy Institute makes the same point in this report in today's Fairfax papers:
"..this week's federal budget had less detail than a standard defence budget, even though it followed the release of the Government's long-term national security plan. "It is very disappointing," he said. "The white paper is a major public policy event. [The] last time one came out, there were charts showing spending and where out money is going. The level of disclosure is way below what it should be in terms of public transparency and accountability. This simply is not good enough for a budget after a white paper."

...the budget this week provided few details about the make-up of the (planned $20 billion) savings. "Even though there is a very ambitious savings program in the offing, the amount of detail is disappointingly sparse," said Mr Thomson, a member of the Government's three-person advisory panel for the white paper. "This is less than a normal budget. It is a step backwards in terms of public disclosure. It is impossible for the taxpayers who are paying for this to make judgments about what is going on."
Minister Fitzgibbon says all will be revealed in due course.

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