Going from opposition into government, however enjoyable, can be rather fraught for politicians because of the sudden reversals that they need to make on policies enthusiastically spruiked or opposed when they were on the other side of the chamber. Behold Malcolm Turnbull — harsh critic of data retention in 2012 while in opposition, transformed into the lead minister on the introduction of mass surveillance in government. And sadly Malcolm has not merely had to switch policy positions, it appears he’s undergone a sea-change on the efficacy of cost-benefit analyses to government policy. Readers will recall Turnbull was a determined advocate of getting the Productivity Commission to conduct a full-scale cost-benefit analysis of the NBN when in opposition — indeed, he even introduced a private member’s bill to that effect. What good would a CBA by the hardheads at the PC have done? “I think if the Productivity Commission gave us a very big tick, it would be incredibly persuasive and I think most people would expect everybody to support it then — that would be incredibly persuasive,” Turnbull told SBS at the time.

Fast forward a couple of years, however, and Turnbull apparently no longer cares for PC assessments: his office has ruled out asking the PC to conduct an analysis of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, despite the chairman of the PC, Peter Harris, calling for such an analysis back in July. Then again, Harris was the reason Turnbull eventually abandoned a CBA of the broadband project after the election — the new minister thought there was an issue with Harris having been secretary of communications when the NBN was being rolled out. No such problem exists with Harris now regarding the TPP — but for some reason Turnbull prefers the “national interest analysis” of the TPP that will be prepared for the Treaties Committee when it considers the deal. Who’ll prepare the NIA? The very DFAT bureaucrats who negotiated the deal. Makes Harris’s faux-conflict of interest over the NBN look fairly trivial, eh, Prime Minister?

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Peter Fray

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