Now I am not against Martin Parkinson, short-term Treasury secretary, speaking out to defend his organisation. This is what you would expect a leader to do. It is miles ahead of Peter Harris, Chairman of the Productivity Commission, who chose to publicly denigrate the PC staff by calling them dull. (Dull, my arse, but please, please, could the PC release shorter reports!)
Actually, there was quite a bit of interest in the speech Martin Parkinson gave to the Institute of Public Administration in Canberra this week. There was the annoying self-congratulatory tone and the perennial excuse – we cannot defend ourselves in a specific sense because we do the bidding of the government of the day.
And, sadly, there was all that management babble which has become a hallmark of how public servants speak and write (private sector too?):
- Strategic Review (one of the worst documents ever released by Treasury, confirming the usefulness of the (utterly fatuous) wellbeing framework);
- Women in Treasury project;
- Progressing Women initiative;
- Inclusive Workplace Committee;
- Capability Review
He didn’t mention the INDEPENDENT review of the Treasury’s forecasting record which was intentionally manipulated to deal with:
- the very short term;
- excluded the revenue projections of the Mineral Resource Rent Tax.
In other words, a pointless exercise which concluded that Treasury does a pretty good job, compared with private sector forecasters – that have about 1/10th of the staff numbers doing the same job, by the way.
But here’s the sentence of Martin’s speech I really love:
While we can always be better and more active in engaging with business, I reject categorically the view that we simply don’t understand business.
Here’s the thing – there is plenty of evidence that Treasury does not have the faintest understanding of business – indeed, much sympathy for business.
When it came to the design of the RSPT, for instance, it was absolutely clear that the Treasury officials didn’t have a clue. The difference between EBIT an EBITDA – crucial in mining – was not understood, for instance.
And what about the complete fiasco of the employee share option taxation arrangements … again not a clue, including the fact that there are multiple versions, a point that Treasury officials did not understand?
Now I am very happy to read about the initiatives Treasury is taking to further contacts with business, including secondments. And I do accept that governments make insane decisions and Treasury then has to come in to mop up the mess.
But I have enough inside knowledge to know that Treasury’s ignorance and naivety, when it comes to the details of business operations and particular industries, have been on show for years. I can only hope there will be real improvements.
Update: I forgot to mention the fiasco of the carbon price modelling exercise. Recall the assumption that there would be a world carbon price by 2016 – sure. (Wake up, Judith.)