Unprecedented Treasury backlash
Tim Colebatch and Mark Kenny analyse the unprecedented move by Treasury and Finance departments to criticise the government's attack on Coalition costings.PT15M19S http://www.canberratimes.com.au/action/externalEmbeddedPlayer?id=d-2sv3q 620 349 August 30, 2013
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Labor's campaign is ''in tatters'', leader of opposition business Christopher Pyne has declared, as Labor defends its release of Treasury and Finance documents to claim there is a $10 billion black hole in Coalition savings.
The war of words over Labor's black hole claims escalated on Friday, with a defiant Treasurer Chris Bowen and Deputy Prime Minister Anthony Albanese insisting the government's claims were correct – despite the secretaries of Treasury and Finance taking the highly unusual step late on Thursday of publicly denying that they had examined opposition policies.
Mr Bowen was adamant on Friday that ''we stand by every word that we said yesterday''.
''In the press conference we said that we asked the Treasury and department of finance to cost these things before the election. We said that. But we also said that assumptions can change the costings. We said that,'' Mr Bowen said.
The Treasurer said the two department secretaries had simply affirmed that Labor had asked the departments to cost the policies before the election.
''If the opposition is so sure of their facts here, they can clear this up today by releasing their costings.''
Earlier, Mr Albanese also stood firm on the government's claims.
''Depending upon – all that Treasury and Finance have said is, if you change the assumptions, the details, the period of time of what have you, then you might get different outcomes,'' he told Channel 9 on Friday morning. ''And that's correct. Based upon the assumptions of what they're saying, on the opposition's own words, they're the figures.''
Asked how Labor came up with the $10 billion figure, Mr Albanese said, ''from Treasury and Finance. We released the minutes . . .''
He later acknowledged, ''What they say is that if you change the assumptions, depending on the detail of the opposition policy, then you might get a different outcome. So therefore they're not saying precisely these are the figures.''
On Thursday, Treasury Secretary Martin Parkinson and Finance Department Secretary David Tune issued a public statement advising that neither had examined the opposition's policies, and any modelling used for costing government policies before the election could not credibly be applied to opposition policies.
The statement said that the departments had been asked by the government to cost various ''policy options'', and: ''at no stage prior to the caretaker period has either department costed opposition policies''.
Late on Thursday the head of the Parliamentary Budget Office, Phil Bowen, also weighed in to the political stoush, issuing a statement that advised: ''Unless all of the policy specifications were identical, the financial implications of the policy could vary markedly.''
On Friday morning, Mr Pyne called Prime Minister Kevin Rudd ''the greatest make-up artist of all time'', and said the department chiefs had ''torpedoed'' Labor's campaign.
''Kevin Rudd had built his campaign around attacking the Coalition on a negative way and what [the] Parliamentary Budget Office, Finance and Treasury did yesterday was call Kevin
Rudd out to be a make-up artist and to have been lying about the Coalition's costings,'' Mr Pyne.
''Anthony Albanese can say whatever he likes; yesterday Kevin Rudd confidently went out and accused the Coalition of having a $10 billion black hole; in the afternoon the objective heads of the department said that was utterly false.
''Kevin Rudd's campaign is in tatters today.''
Labor says it has submitted 46 policies to the Departments of Treasury and Finance, in accordance with the Charter of Budget Honesty established by John Howard and Peter Costello in 1998.
Shadow treasurer Joe Hockey told Fairfax on Thursday he had provided the Coalition's costings under dispute to Treasury to prove there was no $10billion black hole.
The Coalition – which under changes introduced by the government – can give its policies to either Treasury or the Parliamentary Budget Office for assessment. It had earlier given its policies to the PBO.
It's understood that Treasury put out its statement distancing itself from Labor's ''$10billion black hole'' claim after viewing the Coalition policies in dispute.
But Labor was undeterred in its attacks on the opposition on Friday, with Finance Minister Penny Wong accusing the opposition of launching ''an enormous fraud'' on Australians by not publicly releasing all of its policy costings. Opposition leader Tony Abbott said on Friday the Coalition would release costings late next week.
''What the Treasury and Finance have made clear is they weren't asked to cost Coalition policies and that because Tony Abbott won't give them to them,'' Senator Wong said.
''He won't give his policies to Treasury and Finance for costing because he's hiding his costings. [There was] an extraordinary comment today by Tony Abbott, when he was asked on radio whether he'd release his costings or when he would, he said, ''Towards the end of next week,'' so the alternative Prime Minister is saying to the Australian people, 'We don't want you to know the truth of the cuts to come until as close to the election as possible.' That is an enormous fraud on the Australian people.''
And Senator Wong accused Mr Hockey ''continues to repeat'' lies about Labor costings.
''Joe Hockey keeps lying on that,'' she said. ''Joe Hockey keeps lying on national television saying Labor hasn't costed its policies. We have. We've lodged 46 policies under the Charter of Budget honesty. The Coalition has lodged none.''
Meanwhile, a Newspoll released on Friday showed Labor is facing electoral oblivion in key western Sydney marginal seats, with the swing against Labor three times worse than across the rest of the country.
Newspoll indicates the ALP's primary vote in the region is just 34 per cent, down nine points since the 2010 election, while the Coalition is up nine points to 52 per cent over the same time.
On a two-party-preferred basis, there has been a nine-point swing away from Labor to 43 per cent across the electorates of Greenway, Lindsay, Banks, Reid and Parramatta, all of which are held on margins of less than 5 per cent.
Mr Rudd leads Mr Abbott as preferred prime minister nationally by 44 per cent to 40 per cent, but trails the Opposition Leader in western Sydney by 40 per cent to 46 per cent.