The Secretary to the Treasury, Dr Martin Parkinson PSM, has responded to concerns raised by the Shadow Treasurer and Member for North Sydney, the Hon Joe Hockey MP.
The Hon Joe Hockey MP
Shadow Treasurer and
Member for North Sydney
CANBERRA ACT 2600
Dear Mr Hockey
Your letter of 5 November 2012 regarding an article in the Sydney Morning Herald entitled Coalition tax plans come with $4.6b bill raises concerns about the apolitical and professional nature of the Treasury and the way in which we discharge our responsibilities. I appreciate your concerns and understand why this prompted you to write, and have now investigated the circumstances around this issue.
As you know from your own time as a senior Minister, the Australian Public Service serves the people of Australia through the Government of the day, irrespective of which political party or parties form that government. Accordingly, it is imperative that departments, such as Treasury, and individual public servants are apolitical and professional both in substance and in how the public perceives the way they undertake their duties. Without this, public faith in the institutions risks being undermined, which damages their effectiveness and ultimately undermines the pursuit of good policy, all to the detriment of the wellbeing of the Australian people.
In the case of the three Coalition policies referred to in the SMH article, I have investigated what occurred within this Department and can assure you that there has been no breach of the professional and apolitical ethos of the Treasury.
It has long been the case that Treasury is periodically asked by the Government of the day to cost or analyse alternative policies, some of which are already in the public domain. These can include policies proposed by stakeholders or by non-government political parties. In such cases, we draw, to the maximum extent possible, on publicly available information, in part due to the confidentiality we observe in responding to requests from Ministers.
Outside of a caretaker period, as defined by the Charter of Budget Honesty Act, the Treasury does not undertake unsolicited costings of the policies of political parties. During a caretaker period, costing requests from relevant political parties are undertaken in strict accordance with the Charter of Budget Honesty Act. The Treasury also does not provide to Government costings on policies of political parties to which the Charter of Budget Honesty applies during a caretaker period. It is only in the preparation of Treasury's own incoming government briefs during a caretaker period that we would undertake unsolicited costings of the policies of the political parties – this is done in order to provide advice to an incoming government on the fiscal position.
On the occasion to which your letter refers, the Treasury provided advice to the Deputy Prime Minister and Treasurer at the request of his Office on several specific policies. As is always our practice, the Treasury did not provide the advice or the underlying analysis to anyone outside of Government.
As outlined in my letter of 25 September 2012 to the Australian Public Service Commissioner, adherence to the Australian Public Service values outlined in the Australian Public Service Act is a central element of Treasury's internal culture. Accordingly, any suggestion that we would be complicit in questionable practices is without foundation.
I trust the above, together with yesterday's reporting of these issues, addresses the concerns you have raised.
7 November 2012