Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Stand by for Coalition costings


Hours ahead of releasing its privately-costed list of election promises the Coalition has accused Labor of "intimidation" saying it has tried to heavy three big accountancy firms, threatening them with loss of government contracts if they worked for the Coalition.

But each of the big four firms spoken to by The Age say no such thing happened.

"Three firms contacted us," Shadow Treasurer spokesman Joe Hockey told The Age. "They have said they were phoned by either a state or Commonwealth Labor staffer and asked whether they were planning to do Coalition costings."

"They were then told that if they did the government would need to reconsider its relationship with them."

Asked to name the firms Mr Hockey said they had spoken to the Coalition in confidence. None were the as-yet unnamed firm the Coalition has selected to do its costings.

"Labor didn't go through the entire phone book," he said. "There are a few big firms they didn't contact."

Labor laughed off the charge last night while declining to deny it outright...

"Only five days ago Joe Hockey was saying their independent costing firm would put their reputation on the line and now he won't tell the Australian people who they are," a Labor spokesman said in a written statement.

"It is the latest in a long line of pathetic excuses from Coalition to avoid subjecting their policies to the scrutiny of the independent umpire."

The Herald/Age approached each of Australia's so-called "big four" accounting firms, PricewaterhouseCoopers, KPMG, Deloitte and Ernst & Young. Each said it was unaware of any such calls from Labor staff and each said it was not doing the Coalition costings.

An industry source said it was "highly unlikely" the Labor party would attempt to intimidate them, as all of the major firms regularly worked with the federal government. It is understood each refuses to do political work with Oppositions as a matter of course.

Until 2007 Access Economics was the firm of choice for privately costing opposition policies from whatever side, a history that gave it the nickname "Treasury in exile".

A change of policy by Access left the Coalition scrambling for a firm to do the work it said Sunday it no longer trusted Treasury to do.

Declaring that its policies might leak if it submitted them for costing, Oppostion leader Tony Abbott asked, "why should we give our policies to the Labor Party before they're effectively going to Treasury and to the public?"

The policies would be costed by "a respected, reputable, well known accounting firm".

They are expected today.

Published in today's SMH and Age

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