Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Dr Henry knows a lot more about water than his political masters suspect.

So the head of Australia’s Treasury doesn’t know anything about water.

By implication Australia’s Water Minister Malcolm Turnbull said yesterday that Dr Ken Henry did not know “how much it cost to pipe a channel, how much it costs to replace a Dethridge wheel with a computerised flume gate, and how much it costs to line 10 kilometres of leaky channel along the Murrumbidgee River.”

On Australia Day this year Dr Henry was made a Companion of the Order of Australia for service to the development of economic policy and for service to welfare and care of native wildlife.

With his wife Naoimi he rescues and rehabilitates sick, injured and orphaned animals for Wildcare Queanbeyan at his properties near Bungendore...

One of his first speeches as Treasury Secretary was about why the Killabakh Creek near where he grew up in northern NSW “simply dried up”. It was logging and the underpricing of native timber and water. He said that as a 13 year old boy it provided him with his first lesson in economics.

Dr Henry knows as much about the real world as does Malcolm Turnbull, and probably more about the way in which economics drives it, especially when it comes to water and the enviroment.

Under his leadership the Treasury, with the department of Environment, Foreign Affairs and Prime Minister and Cabinet is said to have put to Cabinet an carbon trading scheme more than three years ago – in August 2003 - princing carbon emissions at $5 a tonne. The Cabinet rejected it, as was its right.

In his leaked address to staff now published on the Treasury’s website Dr Henry does not say the Treasury should always prevail, or even that it was always right. Merely that the government would make better decisions if it sought the input of a building full of hundreds of the country’s brightest economic minds.

One specific message of his will trouble both the Government and the Opposition. It is that in our current economic circumstances, most schemes promoted as creating jobs will do no such thing.

Talking about plans for a nuclear power industry he asks: “Where will the nuclear scientists and technicians come from? Is it seriously being suggested that they will come from the dole queue or from Indigenous Community Development Employment Projects?”

“Unless all of the workers employed in the nuclear industry are immigrants who would not otherwise have been drawn to Australia, every job ‘created’ by the nuclear industry will be a job ‘destroyed’ in some other industry,” he says.

“The next time any of you get an opportunity to write a comment on a Cabinet submission that proposes a taxpayer-funded handout for some stunning new investment proposition – and I predict that some of you won’t have to wait very long for such an opportunity – I suggest you draw attention to the submission’s failure to identify the businesses that will lose labour, and be forced to reduce output, if the proposal is agreed to.”

No wonder some of Australia’s most senior government ministers want to stop listening.