Thursday, May 17, 2007

Ken Henry safe / his department WAS bypassed when the government drew up its water policy.

A senior Labor frontbencher has pledged that an incoming Rudd Labor government will not purge the top levels of the Commonwealth public service. The incoming Howard government in 1996 terminated the appointments of six departmental heads and put their replacements on short-term contracts.

Speaking at the Press Club yesterday the Shadow Treasurer Wayne Swan said that his leader Kevin Rudd had no intention of doing any thing other than working professionally with the senior public servants already in place.

“Anyone who know Kevin will know that he has a lifelong commitment to public service and to professional advice that is fearless. Running into a fierce bureaucrat who is prepared to stand up and argue about good policy is the most important thing you could have in the public service,” he said.

The Shadow Treasurer guaranteed that the head of the Treasury Dr Ken Henry would remain in place saying “Ken Henry would be a certainty in a Rudd Labor government.”

“I have the highest regard for Ken Henry, I have never agreed with him on absolutely everything, but some of his recent speeches have been particularly good,” he said.

In a speech to Treasury officers leaked last month Dr Henry was deeply critical of the way in which the government had drawn up its $10 billion water initiative...

“There is no doubt that policy outcomes would have been far superior had our views been more influential,” he said, adding that the issue would come back to the Treasury later for some quality input, “it will have to”.

On Tuesday at a post-budget address in Sydney Dr Henry called for the establishment of a national market in water.

“If somebody can see a commercial advantage in the exchange of a product, there should be no impediment to that happening. Water in Australia does not satisfy any of those tests,” he said.

A national market would allow farmers to sell rural water with a low value to cities where it would have a much higher value.

The National Party has forcefully resisted the idea, arguing that it would allow farmers to be taken advantage of.

A freedom of information request by the Seven Network has revealed that only 22 documents were used in the creation of the $10 billion water initiative. It said this was fewer than were used to create a typical home loan.

Among the tiles of the documents listed on the Seven website last night are none that indicate that the Treasury or the Department of Finance was consulted during the creation of the $10 billion program.

The network was denied access to the text of the documents on the grounds that it could damage Commonwealth-state relations, disclose deliberative processes, and breach legal privilege.

At the Press Club the Shadow Treasurer said that the Howard government had achieved some good things and that yesterday’s news of a new high in consumer confidence was welcome.

But he said it had failed to develop a plan for transforming Australia’s gains from the mining boom into the productivity gains needed to guarantee prosperity into the future.

“Sadly, almost all of the relative productivity gains of the 1990s have been eroded. A government cannot stand for future prosperity when it has halved the potential wealth creation of the Australian people,” he said.

Mr Swan said he expected to be the treasurer in a Rudd Labor government for 10 years, following in the tradition of Australia’s longest-serving Treasurer Peter Costello who has delivered 12 budgets.

But he said that he, like evry other Shadow Minister had received no guarantee that he would retain his portfolio when Labor took office.

“There is no guarantee and nor should there be” he said.