There's a 1960s quote attributed to former US Senator and Ambassador Daniel Moynihan that's increasingly apt half a century later: "You're entitled to your own opinion, but not your own facts." It's a truth that seems to be lost on the political class, from the Prime Minister down.
The danger of forgetting that truth was on display as Tony Abbott struggled to justify his decision to flick Treasury secretary Martin Parkinson – contrary to the advice of John Howard, Peter Costello and just about anyone who has bothered to listen to what Parkinson says.
In an echo of his view that the ABC should be a cheer squad for government policy rather than an independent, dependable news organisation, Abbott urged everyone in the official family to be on board with the idea that the Australian government switched in September from being "high taxing, high regulating" to being "low taxing, low regulating".
It seems Abbott blames Martin Parkinson for the alleged pre-September nature of government. The concept of the Australian public service providing frank and fearless independent advice, of being professional, is out the window. Looks like Ray Hadley would make a good Treasury secretary.
If it wasn't rather important and if it didn't provide a worrying insight into the Prime Minister's thinking, it would be funny, or at least Pythonesque. Parkinson is effectively accused of being responsible for something that doesn't exist: Australia is not a high-tax country by developed world standards.
Indeed, in the context of the high level of social services provided and promised by both sides of politics, Australia is remarkably low-taxing. And our level of taxation has not and will not materially change because Tweedledum has replaced Tweedledee on the Treasury benches.
Despite comfortably winning the election and now having to be responsible for stuff, Tony Abbott is still running off at the mouth with mindless opposition slogans. It wouldn't matter except that some people believe the Prime Minister. Vast numbers of Australian innocents have been told they are highly taxed and they're silly enough to believe it. Telling lies isn't a good way to prepare people for a sensible and necessary review of the tax system.
Anyone bothering to read or listen to Martin Parkinson would think he makes the sort of speeches and sense that you would hope a conservative Treasurer would make – he's been on about entitlements, questioning the affordability and financial sustainability of programs and such back when the Coalition was still concentrating on getting its three-word chants in the right order. As a small sample, try this from 2011.
"While our actual position is healthy, and markedly so in comparison to other advanced economies, this is not a cause for complacency — we will need continued focus on hard decisions to deliver these outcomes and to maintain fiscal credibility and sustainable public finances.
"And while fiscal consolidation remains a priority, Australia also needs to continue pursuing an economic reform agenda which will assist the Australian economy adjust to global shocks, and generate a sustainable base from which to create and boost wealth and living standards over the next decade.
"This means tackling the decline in our productivity performance in order to expand our growth potential, offset the impacts of ageing and allow us to respond to the global economic transformation from west to east that is under way."
Google Parkinson's speeches and you can see the responsible, reasonable and rational line continuously pushed, whatever the politicians of the day might have been saying. John Howard and Peter Costello both advised the new government to keep Parkinson in place, that they respected his ability and integrity, but Tony Abbott defended his Parkinson decision as being about "placing our stamp on the economic policy of the country".
In reality, if the government wants to provide the electorate with the level of services it has promised and be "low-taxing", it's going to need all the Treasury talent it can muster and then some, considering the loaves-and-fishes act required.
It's generally a sign of insecurity that an individual can't admit a mistake when it's obvious and correct it. But this is a government that started with the petty, vindictive and wastefully expensive act of sacking Steve Bracks as New York consul-general before he started and giving the job to the Liberal Party's own Nick Minchin. The form guide does not inspire confidence.
In such a climate, Parkinson's predecessor as Treasury Secretary, Ken Henry, came across as something of a superstar for rational thinking in his 7.30 interview on Wednesday night. In particular, what he was saying about the affordability of our various social programs is the sort of common sense that should have bipartisan approval.
But nothing can be bipartisan any more. The Coalition might now regret running away from the politically difficult parts of the Henry taxation review as it forces them to do conduct their own Reader's Digest version. And, given the statement about everyone needing to be on board with the government's view – valuing only opinions that agree with their own – its reviews and audits have already been tainted.
With much needing to be done – as impartially outlined by Parkinson and Henry – that's a shame for us all.
Michael Pascoe is a BusinessDay contributing editor.