McKibbin unloads on Henry

I have enormous respect for Ken Henry but he can’t believe that you should have consensus because it is better to have bad policy that everyone agrees with than eventually get good policy that will work.

The ETS was a flawed scheme. Had the government got it through it would be dead by now because of the financial crisis.

I also disagreed with the scale of the stimulus package … It wasn’t evidence-based policy; they panicked. The government rammed those decisions through the economy even though they were fraught with risk. No one was consulted about an alternative view and if you did say anything you were attacked by the Treasurer and the Prime Minister in public.

That’s hard. It gets harder.

Treasury, as far as I can tell, has become an arm of political policy. Historically they have always been the ones who have said, ‘Wait a minute, this policy of subsidising green cars to try and save the constituents of a particular electorate is not a very sensible way to spend $8 billion.’ You just don’t see that now.

What makes this particularly damaging is that McKibbin isn’t just some ratbag academic economist – he is a serious insider.

Professor McKibbin says the only debate he now has with the Treasury secretary is at the board table.

”If the government won’t engage you behind closed doors then an academic has no other choice than to express their opinion in the public interest, in public, for the public to assess.

Update: Oliver Hartwich also has a go at Ken Henry.

Telling other people to shut up is never a particularly strong argument for your own case. If you are convinced of your arguments, the least you have to fear is open debate. This makes the recent intervention by Treasury secretary Ken Henry all the more remarkable.

In order to quell dissent on his policy recommendations such as the emissions trading scheme and the controversial mining tax, Henry even interrupted his overseas holiday to address a conference in Sydney. The delegates were given a strong warning not to criticise his proposals any more.

Ken Henry seems to have forgotten that he is not heading the Ministry of Truth but that he is supposed to be a non-partisan bureaucrat.

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42 Responses to McKibbin unloads on Henry

  1. dover_beach says:

    Yes, Henry has styled himself as a US-style Treasury Secretary. Kudos to McKibbin for calling Henry out.

  2. VR says:

    This shows why there is a need for a Australian version of the cbo, no?

  3. Rafe says:

    Question. What will it take to get rusted on ALP supporters to face the facts about this administration?

  4. dover_beach says:

    They’re lost to the world, Rafe. We must face that fact.

  5. Sinclair Davidson says:

    Rafe – you’re in NSW. You know what it takes.

  6. Peter Patton says:

    Rafe, while the numbers of ALP Useful Idiots are dwindling, they are still out there. Check the LP blog. 😉

  7. jtfsoon says:


    didn’t you vote for Kruddy?

  8. dover_beach says:

    didn’t you vote for Kruddy?

    That’s something you’d take to the grave, surely?

  9. Infidel Tiger says:

    Wasn’t PP telling us until recently that he would still be voting for Riddles? There’s slow and then there’s diminished capacity.

  10. jtfsoon says:

    That’s something you’d take to the grave, surely?

    Like Homer I voted for Mark Latham. Is that grave worthy too?

  11. Fleeced says:

    Jason: it was, until Rudd made him seem not so bad.

  12. dover_beach says:

    Like Homer I voted for Mark Latham. Is that grave worthy too?

    Anything that starts off “Like Homer…” you take to the grave.

  13. Paul says:


    Henry is acting this way as he has a axe to grind and wants policies implemented, even though he is not an elected representative.
    Old mate Ken needs to remember what a “public servant” means.

    On NSW. The Penrith bi-election still shows that 25% of people out there voted for Labour and hence the NSW government.
    So 9352 people in the electorate consider that NSW Labour will continue to do a better job then any alternative.
    The 4267 people who voted Green at least had the guts/sense to vote for someone else, even if they can’t bring themselves to vote for the Liberals. I know and knew people who were like that. As close to sectarian as you get.

  14. jtfsoon says:

    Anything that starts off “Like Homer…” you take to the grave.

    Fair suck of the sauce bottle, DB

  15. JC says:

    Interesting RBA board meetings when they both show up there.

    McKibbon just crucifies him and the government. It’s the most effective attack I’ve seen for a while.

    Perhaps he takes over Wombat-Henry’s job.

  16. Peter Patton says:

    Infidel Tiger

    Up until about 6 weeks ago I was still intending to vote ALP. No more. I shall be numbering every box possible to make sure Labor is last. I am voting

    1. LDP
    2. Greens

  17. Myrddin Seren says:

    “Treasury, as far as I can tell, has become an arm of political policy.”

    Is this not a distinct cultural/generational shift, that is now bubbling its way to the top tier of the bureaucracy ?

    For years now, critics have suggested, for example, that the national broadcaster has been effectively captured by political partisans.

    And the partisans simply either do not see their bias for what it is, or clearly feel the ‘greater good’ outweighs any old fashioned ideas about impartiality.


    So the New Class has simply advanced up other arms of the public, not-for-profit and even private sectors eg the Fairfax press, to the point where the New Class worldview is the only outlook.

    What to do about it ? Based on the above, Ken Henry is probably not even conscious that there might be some basis to these critiques, given that he is doubtless surrounded a chorus of like-minded voices.

    Probably nothing can indeed be done but strap your seatbelt on and brace for whatever the unravelling of political correctness eventually and inevitably brings – as per the cracks already appearing in the US, UK and Europe.

  18. Peter Patton says:

    The ABC and Ken Henry’s turn can be distinguished (I think). The ABC has its Charter to answer to; not the Constitution.

    OTOH, isn’t Treasury part of the Executive? And if so, surely it is OK for Henry to do the Executive’s bidding, which in this case involves entering a fractious public debate, which the Treasury perceives is ill-informed? Now Henry might be wrong on this point, but is his intervention constitutionally inappropriate?

    How does this differ from Barbara Bennett’s TV ads shilling for Workchoices back in 2007?

  19. Rafe says:

    PP, funny you should mention the LP blog, it is years since I visited.
    I don’t know if NSW under Neville Wran in the 1970s pioneered the politicisation of the public service but he certainly gave it a huge boost and sophisticated the process. At that time it was possible to talk about even-handed public administration with a straight face. Quite likely the hospital system was the major victim when the administration was both politicised and centralized to get rid of local hospital boards.
    Infrastructure suffered as well when Wran hit on the idea of raiding the capital reserves of various bodies like the Water Board to keep fees and charges down. Great politics in the short term but!

  20. . says:

    I am sick to death of the ALP spin machine, Channel Ten, boosting every stupid idea Rudd has and gainsaying anything decent the opposition says.

    What’s their game? Do they have interests? Or do they think their target market votes heavily ALP and Green?

  21. Entropy says:

    Channel 10? Don’t they chase the yoof demographic? There’s your answer.

    Anyway, up in Qld the public service, at least at executive level, has always been full of political hacks. Regardless of the flavor of government. And if a government has been in power for a while, the hacks get placed at ever lower levels. They’re like rabbits.

    And if a government is really on the nose, a stack of advisers get parachuted out of Ministers’ offices into all sorts of places so that they can be fed and watered until their masters’ return from the wilderness.

  22. daddy dave says:

    PP, I don’t understand why someone with views as conservative as yours would vote green, unless you really have an inconsistent and poorly thought out worldview.

  23. Peter Patton says:


    Ah, we are voting in a real-life Australian election for real people, within a real political system, with real institutions, real laws, and in really real world – 2010.

    When we go to the ballot box, we are submitting votes within that complex yet integrated political reality. We are not dropping an undergrad political philosophy essay into that box.

  24. daddy dave says:

    Ah, we are voting in a real-life Australian election for real people.
    I see. So you’re a pragmatist. Which explains why you vote for the most unpragmatic, idealistic, pie-in-the-sky, anti-West, anti-consumer, anti-progress party you can find.
    Yep. makes lots of sense (not).
    … or perhaps it’s to maintain credibility with peers? Because if you loudly proclaim that you vote Green, perhaps they’ll forgive you for your conservative tendencies.

  25. Peter Patton says:

    I think you are projecting a lot of stuff on to me from god knows where, but it’s weird. Do you really think I give a fig about seeking “forgiveness” for the way I number my 2010 federal election ballot papers!? WOW! I mean just WOW!

    p.s. You might like to actually re-read my post.

    Hint: It provides the answer I give my “peers” when they ask who I am voting for. 😉

  26. daddy dave says:

    I give a fig about seeking “forgiveness” for the way I number my 2010 federal election ballot papers!?
    Mate, I was giving you the benefit of the doubt. Because the alternative is that you’re a soft-brained hippie who gazes at crystals and thinks that the best thing we could all do is strip off all our clothes, run into the bush and commune with nature.
    As a rational person, I look for rational explanations, even for bizarre phenomena, like seemingly intelligent people voting Green. But perhaps Dovstoevsky was right, and sometimes there is no rational explanation.
    Fine then.
    You’re not just a Greens voter, you’re a Greens supporter. Let’s see how that stacks up against your views on, well, just about anything you’ve ever discussed here.

  27. . says:

    “Because the alternative is that you’re a soft-brained hippie who gazes at crystals and thinks that the best thing we could all do is strip off all our clothes, run into the bush and commune with nature.”

    Why do you have to be a hippie to believe that?

    It’s a lot easier when you’ve got money, poverty is minimised, there’s free speech, little woserism and people like Osama or the Birnies are bombed, hanged or imprisoned.

  28. daddy dave says:

    Look, it’s really your business how you vote, Peter, it’s just that it doesn’t gel with anything you’ve ever said here, ever. Makes no sense at all.
    I could understand if, say, FDB said “I’m voting green” and wouldn’t give him a hard time about it. But if, say, CL said it, we’d rightly flay him.

  29. Peter Patton says:


    If you think the LDP are a bunch of nasty pinkoes, then so be it.

  30. Yobbo says:

    Voting for a micro party and putting the greens 2nd is no better than putting them first. That’s how preferential voting works.

    You should be putting the greens last if you are at all serious, that is what Daddy Dave is getting at.

  31. daddy dave says:

    Why do you have to be a hippie to believe that?.
    I guess you don’t.
    I love ‘communing’ with nature… as long as nature doesn’t get hungry.

  32. Peter Patton says:

    Actually no. Because of preferential voting, The Greens themselves are micro party, just like my first preference.

  33. daddy dave says:

    Thanks Yobbo, that’s exactly what I was getting at. But I regret commenting on the issue. I should have just waited till the next time PP said something that was anathema to Green policy and raised it then.

  34. Yobbo says:

    The Greens are not a micro party, they are the 3rd biggest party in Australia and elect multiple senators every year.

  35. Peter Patton says:

    In MY electorate, The Greens ARE a micro party. A micro party is one which has 3/5ths of fuck-all chance of getting elected.

  36. Peter Patton says:


    I’m still not persuaded you have read my post, as you reveal no idea who I am IN FACT voting for as my 1st preference, which is really what is it is all about it. Perhaps you are the electoral equivalent of a train-spotter. Do you rough people up in bars, at the footy, and neighborhood BBQs, demanding they “confess” who they put as their 3rd and 7th preferences? 😉

  37. Yobbo says:

    In MY electorate, The Greens ARE a micro party. A micro party is one which has 3/5ths of fuck-all chance of getting elected.

    In the lower house only. In the senate they have 5 sitting senators and are the most powerful party in the country.

  38. ken n says:

    and are the most powerful party in the country.


  39. THR says:

    Don’t worry too much about the Greens. The Greens will get a similar vote to that which they’ve always got. The Coalition will lose. The ALP will win, despite everything, and in spite of factional idiocy.

  40. Peter Patton says:

    Yobbo and dd

    You guys are clueless about our electoral system, preferential voting, and the current state of the play. Of the latter, didn’t you get the memo? Recent polling shows that up to 40% of Greens preferences leak back to the Liberals. Wake up, do some reading, listen, and learn to do some Math.


    I think you’re spot on.

  41. Yobbo says:

    Nah, I know perfectly well how the electoral system works, thanks.

    I’m not worried about greens preferences electing Labor candidates. I am worried about greens senators being elected.

    The greens are the most dangerous party in Australia, they are hard-boiled socialists who should not be encouraged.

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