Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Treasury disowns Intergenerational Report

The Treasury has disowned the contents of the Intergenerational Report being used by the government to claim that it is a better economic manager than Labor.

Asked about the political content of the report, Treasury deputy secretary Nigel Ray told a Senate hearing the content was "a matter for the government".

In Parliament, Prime Minister Tony Abbott continued to claim the report was a Treasury document, pointing to its table comparing Greek debt to what it said would have been Australia's government debt had Labor's policies been continued.

"I know they don't like looking at the expert document produced by the Treasury but here it is," he said, holding aloft.

Mr Hockey also described it as a Treasury document on its release, telling a radio interviewer Labor hadn't bothered to ask questions about it in Parliament.

"To release a Treasury document and the Shadow Treasurer didn't even ask me a question; it was a Treasury document," he said.

Asked whether he endorsed the political parts of the report, Mr Ray replied: "The content of the report is a matter for the government."

He confirmed that it was Treasury's view that Australia would never reach a surplus over the next 40 years without fresh spending cuts or extra revenue.

The statement is at apparent odds with a claim by the Prime Minister that the budget will be "broadly in balance" in five years without big savings or new taxes.

Asked why the Treasury had spent $380,000 on more than 30 focus groups in the lead-up to the Intergenerational Report, Mr Ray said that, too, had been a government decision, and was more closely related to the advertising campaign that followed than to the report itself.

Treasury officials had "monitored" some of the focus groups. He was unable to say whether this had been through one-way mirrors or video recordings. Nor was he able to say whether the people taking part in the focus groups were aware of how they were being monitored.

Asked why author Karl Kruszelnicki had been chosen to present advertisements for the Intergenerational Report before he had read it, Mr Ray said that, too, was a question for the government.

Asked whether he was worried that an author of science books was promoting a report he hadn't read, Mr Ray replied that it wasn't up to him to worry about that sort of thing.

In The Age and Sydney Morning Herald