Friday, August 27, 2010

Abbott's caved? That's how it looks

Prime Minister Friday August 27:

PM: Can I thank everybody for coming along. As people are aware the Independents, Mr Windsor, Mr Oakeshott and Mr Katter sought access to the costings of the Government’s and Opposition’s election policies and the impact that has on the Budget bottom line. Of course the Budget bottom line was most recently disclosed in the Pre-Election Fiscal Outlook.

I sought advice from the Secretary of Prime Minister and Cabinet on that matter, and it was apparent from that advice, that it would require amending the Caretaker Conventions as we have generally known them to be.

In those circumstances I wrote to Mr Abbott on Wednesday, Wednesday afternoon, seeking his agreement to amend the Caretaker Conventions and enclosing for him a copy of the advice that had been provided to me by the Secretary of Prime Minister and Cabinet.

Mr Abbott yesterday sought some further clarification of the material and further clarification by way of letter was provided.

Initially I had asked Mr Abbott to respond to me on this matter by five o’clock yesterday. Mr Abbott’s office contacted mine and sought further time, specifically further time till nine o’clock this morning, I agreed with that.

Around nine o’clock this morning Mr Abbott’s office sought some further time, which I agreed to and that further time has been extended to Mr Abbott this morning.

Mr Abbott has now responded to me in writing and I have written back to him. I am pleased to report that Mr Abbott has generally agreed that the Independents should be able to get the material that they seek and I welcome Mr Abbott’s general agreement to that.

Mr Abbott in his correspondence to me did seek to put a series of further conditions on this matter, in addition to those new conventions that had been recommended by the Secretary of Prime Minister and Cabinet. Specifically Mr Abbott has sought that any costings assumptions or information, background information, that is provided by the Opposition to Treasury or Finance to assist with the costings of their policies not be provided to either my office of the Treasurer’s office, and of course I’ve agreed to that.

Mr Abbott has sought access to a full costing of the Minerals Resource Rent Tax and the National Broadband Network. I’ve advised Mr Abbott that those full costings are disclosed in the Pre-Election Fiscal Outlook, but if he seeks to have a briefing from Treasury and Finance for a more detailed assessment of those Budget figures then of course that will be made available to him.

Mr Abbott then raised some concerns about where information might go arising from this process. I have indicated to Mr Abbott that it is my view that the Independents should be able to participate in these briefings, what they say publically about the information obtained is then a matter for them.

I believe on this basis the matter is now resolved. Clearly, the Independents - Mr Oakeshott, Mr Windsor, Mr Katter – have sought this information in circumstances where their votes and their attitudes may be critical to who forms the next government in this country. In those circumstances, I think it was appropriate that each of them, where they will be asked to guarantee supply, seek to have full information on costings and on Budget figures. I think that is appropriate.

I think, inevitably, whatever decisions Mr Oakeshott, Mr Windsor and Mr Katter come to, they will be asked why they made those decisions. Consequently I think they do need to be able to freely and publically report on any matter that may have fed into their decisions.

Can I say I understand we are in an unusual set of circumstances, having said that, stable and effective Government continues. In these circumstances, I believed it was appropriate to facilitate the request of the Independents. I’m glad that we seem to have worked our way through to an endpoint where their request will be facilitated.

From the Government’s point of view, can I very clearly say this: the Government is happy to be transparent about its election policy costings, the election policy costings as checked by Treasury, and the impact of the Government’s election policies on the Budget bottom line. We have sought to be transparent about those things by participating in the Charter of Budget Honesty process in the election campaign, we will be transparent about all of the costings of our policies and the impact on the Budget bottom line now.

JOURNALIST: Could you explain exactly what information the Independents will get, specifically will they get access to any information in the red book or the blue book?

PM: What they have asked for, and let’s just be very clear about this, what they’ve asked for is briefings on the costings and impacts of Government and Opposition election promises and policies on the Budget, that is what they will receive.

JOURNALIST: Can I just clarify with the figures the Independents are going to get, does that just include the costings that Treasury has made including the estimates, stuff that hasn’t been submitted, or has Mr Abbott agreed to submit stuff that he didn’t submit so it could be costed more accurately?

PM: I think it is inherent in what Mr Abbott has said, that he will submit material as necessary so costings of every Government and every Opposition election policy and the impact of the total range of Government and the total range of Opposition policies can be disclosed on the Budget bottom line, as the bottom line was made public in the Pre-Election Fiscal Outlook. For the Government side of course, because we’ve been transparent every step of the way, people are basically in possession of that information. For Mr Abbott, because they did not file in the broad, their policies for appropriate costing, of course that information will be new.

JOURNALIST: Is it your advice that Treasury will be able to meet Bob Katter’s deadline for these costings, I think it was close of business Monday?

PM: Look I’m not in a position to set deadlines on this, that’s a question of Treasury doing the work, I don’t have any advice on timeframes for you.

JOURNALIST: There is one point that Tony Abbott made that he wants these costings not to go to you but to the Independents. In the Charter of Budget Honesty, the Opposition has to lodge their costings with the Office of Prime Minister. This of course was very agreeable to Coalition when they were in Government, not such when they’re in Opposition, would you want to amend this to-

PM: Look, thank you for the question, and I want to be absolutely clear about it. I don’t seek access to Mr Abbott’s costing material whilst he is working with Treasury to have his policies properly costed. But I would say this: when Treasury is at the end of that process, I believe every Australian should have access those costings. Every Australian has access to the Government’s costings, every Australian should have access to Mr Abbott’s costings, done by Treasury. I think that that is fundamental to the national interest and Mr Abbott should agree to that.

JOURNALIST: But that’s not part of this agreement is it?

PM: This agreement is about the access of the Independents to these briefings. What they then do with this material, I say, should be a matter for them. But separate to this, of course, we have proceeded with this transparently, absolutely transparently. I believe Australians are entitled to know what the Government’s election policies cost and their impact on the Budget bottom line and they do. I think Australians are entitled to know what Mr Abbott’s policies cost and their impact on the Budget bottom line; currently Australians do not. Through this process, that material in my view should be released to all Australians and it just seems to me that Mr Abbott cannot find a credible objection to that.

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