Saturday, January 02, 2010

Gretch, Henry, Stevens - big in 2009

The SMH asked for pen portraits

Godwin Grech, Senate witness
Previously virtually unknown outside Treasury public servant Godwin Grech became an actor in the most riveting televised political drama of the year. For 20 minutes in June politicians and journalists found themselves glued to parliament house television monitors as relentless questioning by Opposition Senator Eric Abetz appeared to trap Grech into revealing that he the Prime Minister's economics advisor had asked him to do a favour for the car dealer who had lent Kevin Rudd a ute. As the official in charge of the OzCar scheme a clearly stressed Gretch said he believed he had seen an email asking for the special treatment, but that he couldn't be sure. It turned out he was acting. He'd rehearsed the whole thing line by line with Abetz, as an email of his to Malcolm Turnbull made clear. As for the email he thought he had seen, he had composed it himself as Commonwealth Police found when they raided his house. Admitted to a psychiatric facility and later relieved of his duties in Treasury he turned out to have been yearning for a job with Turnbull and to have used the Treasury computer to draft a "Turnbull Coalition Government Economic Action Plan." Turnbull is no longer in a position to offer him a job.

Ken Henry, Treasury Secretary

The head of the Treasury isn't automatically one of the most powerful people in Australia. In the dying years of the Coalition government Ken Henry had become anything but. Like a partner in an unfortunate marriage the government that appointed him had taken ignoring what he had to say. That changed with the advent of Kevin Rudd, Wayne Swan and the global financial crisis. They listened as he told them to abandon convention and "Go early, Go hard, Go households." Australia's success in forestalling the recession even Henry feared was inevitable made Australia and Ken Henry pin-up boys for economic management worldwide. All the while he's been preparing the most comprehensive review of Australia's tax system for a generation, handed to the Treasurer before Christmas. Dr Henry is under no illusion that any of it will be implemented soon, especially during an election year. But he has set his sights on the future, noting that the Asprey Tax Review recommended a Goods and Services Tax in 1975. It finally came into force in July 2000.

Glenn Stevens, Reserve Bank Governor

Once branded "the most useless man in Australia" by a Sydney tabloid, Reserve Bank Governor Glenn Stevens proved himself to be anything but as he unleashed wave upon wave of outsized rate cuts with a speed not since the early 1990's recession. Debate rages as to whether it was the Bank's rate cuts or the government's stimulus program or China
that saved us from that fate this time, but no-one can fault the actions of the man who within months cut Australia's key interest rate from 7.25 to 3.25 per cent. His later decision to edge it up from October was more controversial, but as the first Governor to push up rates during an election he hasn't been deflected by the prospect of criticism. Besides, he has had other worries - keeping the financial system working at a time when it might have seized up and chairing a board that has taken to vigorously debating his recommendations. He relaxes by flying a light plane. Asked once how this fitted in with the banker's imperative of avoiding risk he replied that his plane had two engines.

Published in today's SMH 


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