With just three days to go, it’s all getting a bit depressing when it comes to public accounting and fiscal honesty and this isn’t just about the drunken sailor spending binges.

Whilst John Howard is to be congratulated for making himself available for about 70 interviews with Kerry O’Brien since March 1996, even the tenacious 7.30 Report presenter has failed to pick him up on debt and deficit issues.

During a final half hour of combat last night, the PM’s most brazen lie was to gloat about “the elimination of Labor’s $96 billion of debt”.

When the big debt lie is trotted out, what’s wrong with a journalist saying: “Hang on, doesn’t the Federal government still owe $50 billion?” All the evidence is presented here.

The government actually borrowed $300 million last Tuesday and the incoming Rudd Government is scheduled to borrow $400 million on December 11, as the federal debt management authority reveals here.

Kerry O’Brien did reasonably well in raking over history last night, but he missed the fact that four of Treasurer Howard’s five budgets were in deficit. Howard also left behind $12 billion in federal debt and a then staggering 1982-83 budget deficit forecast of $9.6 billion, which was concealed from the voters before he was tossed out of office.

Therefore, it is not strictly right to describe it as “Labor’s $96 billion debt” and reducing this figure to just $50 billion over 11 years is no great achievement – especially when you factor in one-off privatisation proceeds of $65 billion, led by these three big ticket items:

  • 83% of Telstra: $45 billion
  • 50.1 per cent of the Commonwealth Bank: $5.15 billion
  • the nation’s airports: $8.5 billion

Peter Costello will then point to the Future Fund, but he inherited $69 billion in unfunded super and now has about $50 billion – hardly great progress during a boom.

South Korea went broke 10 years ago, but they’ve now amassed $US250 billion in foreign reserves whilst our only claim to fame is that the Singapore Government owns more Australian business assets than our own government.

Then again, the Labor states are even worse and somehow get away with all announcing surpluses when the figures they release exclude capital items and collectively they’re borrowing $80 billion over the next five years.

Here are some recent examples of lax media reporting from the past month:

“NSW records $584m surplus” – ABC Online

“Queensland’s $1.85 billion surplus” – Fairfax’s Brisbane Times

“Victoria’s $535m surplus” – The Age

Is it too much to ask for some basic honesty in public accounting?

Today’s Mayne Report video sets the scene for tomorrow’s Gunns Ltd AGM in Launceston, which should be a corker.

Crikey: Against all our advice, Stephen Mayne is running as an independent candidate in the seat of Higgins.