Search This Blog

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Costello and a handy slice of the advice cake

Former Treasurer Peter Costello had a "let them eat cake" attitude to Freedom of Information while in office, pronouncing in this speech in November 2005 on the dark dangers posed by those using the Act to seek access to documents relating to policy development. Access to documents about your own affairs was fair enough, but advice to ministers was guarded vigorously-all the way to the High Court in one instance- with claims that frank and candid advice would suffer if confidentiality was not assured.

But times change.
Paul Kelly in The Weekend Australian, after an interview with the former Treasurer, was able to cite with precision, and quote from a document that helped Costello make a point in 2009:
"When Costello began thinking about his final budget, he got a Treasury minute of November 24, 2006, signed by Treasury's senior fiscal officer David Tune. It said under the Budget Strategy heading: "Maintaining a strong surplus of around 1 per cent of GDP in 2007-08 is prudent, given the economy is operating with limited spare capacity and the risks of increasing inflationary pressures from any large increase in spending. "The strength in the budget position provides some latitude to make gradual structural adjustments to the budget over time, particularly as it looks likely that the Future Fund will not require much augmentation in later years to reach its target. Such adjustments ... could gradually draw down the surplus in the out-years to around a half per cent of GDP (or even a bit less) by 2009-10. Policy reform should focus on boosting the supply side of the economy." The minute, marked "cabinet-in-confidence", advised that spending bids from ministers should be cut to ensure that spending as a proportion of GDP "would be maintained at around 21.4 per cent over the forward estimates".

The article tells us Costello,Treasurer-extraordinaire, was having none of this 1% nonsense and, according to his account, insisted on a higher surplus. Kelly doesn't source the leaked briefing note, leaving it to our imagination whence it came.It raises the question what else might have walked out the door on change of government that could in future help shape the first draft of history- according to former ministers, at least. In the light of the disclosure, rather than Treasury officers downing tools when it comes to frank and candid advice as predicted by Costello in 2005, maybe it simply reinforces the need for public servants to act in accordance with Australian Public Service Values including the commitment to be

  • openly accountable for its actions, within the framework of Ministerial responsibility to the Government, the Parliament and the Australian public;
  • responsive to the Government in providing frank, honest, comprehensive, accurate and timely advice and in implementing the Government's policies and programs.

No comments:

Post a comment