The Sydney Morning Herald published this intriguing final paragraph on a story last week about the Future Fund:

The Federal Government has made a special request to the ABS for investments of its Future Fund not to be revealed in the current account figures until the middle of next year. It will therefore not be possible to tell from the accounts what proportion of offshore equities or bonds the Government’s fund has bought.

The Future Fund is already being obsessively secretive about its activities as we still don’t know exactly how much of its $50 billion-plus in cash has been deployed and in what asset classes.

Now it seems the government is being super sensitive about disclosing its offshore investments, whilst worrying about its impact on our already unsustainable current account deficit, which hit $16 billion in the June quarter as foreign debt reached a staggering $544 billion.

The whole story of the Future Fund has been one great big accounting rort from day one, but it seems Peter Costello is getting even more brazen in his dying days as Treasurer.

For starters, Costello overstated his budget surpluses by $29 billion over his first ten budgets by allowing unfunded public sector superannuation to blow out from $69 billion to $98 billion. He then finally confessed that this was unsustainable by establishing the Future Fund, but the money was never actually injected into the relevant superannuation bodies. Instead, the super funds remain technically unfunded, which allows Cossie to continue overstating his budget surpluses.

Then you have the outrageous double counting of claiming that the Federal Government has no debt because it has belatedly put some cash aside to cover unfunded super.

Whilst Mark Latham and Wayne Swan were rightly pilloried during the 2004 election campaign by Cossie for claiming the government’s $600 one-off family payment wasn’t real and therefore didn’t exist, the Treasurer is performing contortions on a far greater scale over Federal debt yet Labor continues to fail to point this out.

Remember when Cossie made the following claim on The World Today last month as the markets were tumbling:

Now it won’t affect the Commonwealth, because the Commonwealth doesn’t borrow. The Commonwealth’s actually saving money, and I think we could all agree now that it’s very important that it’s been doing that. Imagine if the Commonwealth were in the market borrowing at this time too.

So how does the Treasurer explain the $400 million Federal bond issue last Tuesday, which lifted total Commonwealth debt to about $50 billion? The new debt expires in April 2012 and was priced at 6.1579%. And it’s real too.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey

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