Thursday, August 19, 2010

Time to change this silly game - REALITY CHECK

ON PAGE 2 of the Coalition's policy costings, the principals of accounting firm WHK Horvath put a crucial caveat on their endorsement of it. The numbers add up, they say, "based on the assumptions provided" to them by the Coalition.

The Coalition, they write, "provided access to the assumptions used to determine the cost of individual initiatives". But the assumptions were never independently tested: not by Horvaths, not by Treasury, not by the Finance Department.

Any costings are accurate only if the assumptions on which they are based are accurate. We have only the Coalition's word on that. Labor disputes it, on several big-ticket items, with arguments that look persuasive.

But because the Coalition refused to submit its policies to be costed by the officials in Treasury and Finance, what we have will be no independent judgment. Which side you believe is up to you.

In 2007 Labor refused to submit its most sensitive policies for costing until it was too late. In 2010 the Coalition likewise has refused to have its policies costed by the experts who know exactly how to do it.

The claim that it couldn't trust the officials is a phoney excuse. The truth is that Coalition didn't submit their policies because they feared the experts would find mistakes. Just like Labor in 2007.

OK, we've now had two elections in a row when whoever is in opposition has boycotted the process. Why? Because they get access to the experts only when it's too late — once the campaign has started, and their policies have to be made public.

Please, guys, can we make this process work in the interests of taxpayers? How about you sit down together when the election is over and come up with a better set of rules?

When Labor was in opposition, Lindsay Tanner proposed that oppositions be allowed to submit policy proposals privately to Treasury and Finance for costing for a year before an election is due. That would give them the same access as the government has. It would be fair. It would be democratic. It would be in the interests of us — the taxpayers who pay for all this.
What did Labor do when it came to office to reform the process? Nothing.

Labor's critique raises serious doubts about billions of dollars of the Coalition's claimed financing sources, savings and spending plans
What the true bottom line is, frankly, is anyone's guess. Until they fix this silly game, and agree on rules that are fair to all — including the Greens — I'd be sceptical about anything they claim.