Henry Thornton writes:

“One of the nation’s most respected
business leaders has launched a scathing attack on Treasury, saying its woeful
inability to accurately forecast the budget surplus is allowing Peter Costello
to stall on tax reform,” reported The Australian yesterday. “Michael Chaney, chairman of the
National Australia Bank and president of the powerful Business Council of
Australia lobby group, urged the Treasurer to be more accountable for
his department’s forecasts.”

Today, Treasury fights back. The
trouble about the future is that it’s hard to predict. “The nation’s most senior
Treasury official has publicly blasted one of Australia’s most respected business
leaders, saying claims that the department had put up barriers to tax reform
were unsubstantiated.”

The policy issue is whether overly
cautious forecasting has inhibited tax reform. Naturally, Treasury begs to
differ but many others agree. Today, the Nats sink the boot: “Only Treasurer
Peter Costello stood in the way of coalition consensus on the need for tax
reform and even high-ranking Treasury officials were concerned about
Australia’s international tax
competitiveness,” said Nationals president David Russell yesterday. “As for the tax debate, there
seems to be a remarkable unanimity of opinion, except in the Treasurer’s office,
about where tax reform needs to be going”.

Read Henry’s ongoing coverage of the
tax debate at his Budget Watch 2006 page.