Prime Minister Kevin Rudd after Labor’s campaign launch in Brisbane. Photo: Andrew MearesFederal Election 2013 coverageHave your say at YourViewElection Live with Stephanie Peatling
The Coalition is sitting on a time bomb.
It has abused the spirit – if not the letter – of the rules governing the Parliamentary Budget Office by citing the office as support for its costings claims without releasing the office’s actual documents.
Without seeing each document, voters have no way of knowing if the office is being verballed or if assumptions the Coalition has asked it to work with are realistic.
So far the tactic has worked for the Coalition. Without access to the documents and only to the numbers the Coalition says they have produced, Labor has been suckered in to making wild and incorrect claims about Coalition errors.
Journalists know the claims are wrong: they have been shown the budget office documents; they have been told they can make notes, but not copies, before Coalition staff whisk them from their hands.
When, operating in the dark, Labor claimed there were $10 billion in errors in the Coalition’s costings, the Coalition calmly sent its costings to Treasury so it could see there were not.
A $5.2 billion saving from losing 12,000 public servants is a case in point. In April, Labor asked the office to cost a loss of 20,000 staff. The office said that 4000 staff were going in any case, and costed a cut of 16,000 – a saving of $4.26 billion.
Labor’s Penny Wong thundered that the office had found “that even if Mr Abbott cut an additional 8000 jobs – taking the total to 20,000 – he would still be $700 million short of the savings he claims.” It hadn’t. It had costed a cut of 16,000.
More importantly, Wong did not know that Labor’s costing was for a cut starting in July 2014, whereas the Coalition’s was for a start date of October 2013. The difference pulled an extra year of ongoing savings into the forward estimates.
But how could she have known? Costings paid for by the public are being held tightly by the Coalition as if they were private property.
Even when it releases its complete account on Wednesday it does not plan to share, with the public, the documents that underpin it. The system needs to be fixed. Should Joe Hockey become treasurer, he should deny future oppositions the opportunity to misuse the office as he has.
He might be sorry. As a parting gift, Labor and the Greens legislated to require the office to produce a “post-election audit” of all political costings within 30 days.
All the potentially embarrassing details the Coalition has kept from us to date will be public property within 35 days.
The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Hangzhou Night Net.