Despite protestations from the Prime Minister down, Treasury Secretary Ken Henry has blown the lid on the Government’s reckless disregard for good sensible policy on both climate change and water.

Peter Costello’s defence yesterday was that the Budget has emerged in good shape after previous elections, so the Government should be trusted on the back of its good record.

However, Australia’s public finances are not as robust as the Government claims and the media is culpable for failing to point this out. For instance, the Treasurer said the following on Insiders last Sunday:

Reducing net debt, getting rid of the Labor debt. That was the first big point. That got rid of $96 billion.

Host Barrie Cassidy should have immediately countered as follows: “But you haven’t got rid of $96 billion in debt, the Federal Government still owes $54 billion. Why do you keep saying that?”

Then you’ve got Costello’s overblown claims about Labor’s raid on the Future Fund for its broadband policy. The Treasurer even likened Labor to the late Robert Maxwell’s notorious pension theft and stressed that such a move would be against the law for a private employer.

Good point, Treasurer. So why did you overstate your first 10 Budget surpluses by a collective $29 billion when unfunded Federal super blew out from $69 billion to $98 billion?

The Federal Government still has a negative net worth of more than $10 billion and we should be putting aside tens of billions during this unprecedented resources boom.

The Singapore Government has invested more than $20 billion in Australia since 1996 and will shell out about $4 billion for its slice of the Alinta carve-up. Our governments can’t afford their own infrastructure, let alone buying up such assets in other countries.

And when it does come to infrastructure investment, we get a $10 billion water plan seemingly dreamt up on the back of an envelope without reference to Cabinet or Treasury.

The most disturbing aspect of the plan is the idea that irrigators will be given $3 billion to surrender their excess water rights. This won’t build one dollar of infrastructure and will line the pockets of the group that constitutes the heart and sole of the National Party — irrigators.

How much of that public money will boomerang back to the National Party in the form of political donations? Moree-based cotton farmer Dick Estens is one such irrigator who stands to receive many millions just as he works towards becoming a Federal National Party MP.

Treasury would never have tolerated such a folly — which perhaps explains why it wasn’t consulted by a government getting ever closer to its death rattle.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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