From left to right: John Fraser, Scott Morrison, Michael Sukkar and Michael Brennan 

Scott Morrison and the government are not merely shameless in their attacks on what’s left of the credibility of the public service, but now being deeply deceitful.

The utterly inappropriate appointment of former Liberal Party staffer Phil Gaetjens to head Treasury, it turns out, was only the start. On Friday, the government announced two more appalling appointments: Liberal staffer and former Chief of Staff to Mathias Cormann, Simon Atkinson, has been appointed Deputy Secretary in Treasury — meaning two Liberal Party warriors now run Treasury. 

And Atkinson is replacing Michael Brennan, who after a selection process involving the under-investigation Public Service Commission head John Lloyd, has been moved to lead the Productivity Commission after the departure of Peter Harris. Brennan is a former staffer to Rod Kemp and then Nick Minchin in the Howard years, and then was chief of staff to Victorian Liberal Treasurer Kim Wells. Brennan is also a former Liberal Party candidate for preselection in Victorian state politics. 

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But you would know none of that from Scott Morrison’s highly selective media release on Friday. Morrison didn’t mention anything about Brennan’s true blue Liberal heritage. The Treasurer’s version of Brennan’s career is this:

Mr Brennan has deep experience in public policy advisory and served as a Deputy Secretary for the Victorian Department of Treasury and Finance prior to joining the Commonwealth Treasury as the Deputy Secretary of Fiscal Group.

So, according to Morrison, Brennan is just any old ordinary public servant, apparently. Why the heavily censored CV of Brennan, Treasurer? You think we can’t use Google?  

If, as Crikey suggested on Friday, we can write off Treasury as a source of credible fiscal advice given we at least have the independent Parliamentary Budget Office, Brennan’s appointment is potentially far more damaging than that of Gaetjens. The Productivity Commission is the real deal when it comes to frank and fearless advice in an age when such advice is no longer welcome. The PC is unafraid of embarrassing either side of politics and perfectly happy to criticise the government of the day; under Peter Harris, it has continued its tradition of criticising interventionist industry policy but also been happy to criticise the government for its obsession with so-called “free trade deals” and particularly the Trans Pacific Partnership. At a time when the government has been hyping trade deals and many in the media have been parroting them, Harris and co have been calling bullshit — which is exactly the PC’s job.

Reckon Brennan is going to continue to call out dud trade deals and embarrass the Liberals? Reckon Brennan is going to let the PC make statements like those of the recent superannuation report that found industry super funds far ahead of retail super funds in terms of returns?

Perhaps, far from valuing the PC’s willingness to call it as it saw it when it came to the economy, industries and government policy, the Liberals have decided the commission needs to firmly checked by a more “responsive” chairman so that it will no longer criticise and embarrass the government? It’s not as if this government is exactly tolerant of criticism — it will go to great lengths to publicly smear, investigate, release private information against and prosecute those who criticise it.

If someone like Brennan — who but for the grace of preselectors would be a Liberal MP — instead winds up bolstering the PC’s independence and continues to dish it out to all comers like Peter Harris did, then all well and good, and we’ll celebrate that. But does anyone trust this wretched government any more not to try to shut down any and all sources of criticism, as crudely as possible?

It used to be that conservatives valued institutions that had been demonstrated to work over time, and resisted change unless it demonstrably worked better than things that had a track record of delivering for the national interest. Now they’re the wreckers, and it’s getting worse.

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