Saturday, October 25, 2008

Henry policies must be in public gaze

At the Senate estimates hearing on October 22, Treasury secretary Ken Henry expressed his preference that the government's bank deposit guarantee scheme ought to have been developed away from the prying eyes of public scrutiny.

In his own words:  "I really think that it would be much better if these things could be dealt with in a sober way, out of the public gaze for the time being.  Allow the officials the opportunity to reflect soberly and deeply upon the implications of various options and provide appropriate advice to government."

This is an extraordinary statement to make, and has all the hallmarks of a "we know best" attitude.

Fortunately, our liberal democratic system obliges governments to propose and implement policies to be critically scrutinised by the public.  Our system is one of "government by discussion", with the discussion applying to every aspect of policy.

Important checks and balances are also in place to monitor government revenue raising and expenditure, and the conduct of bureaucrats in implementing policy.

The estimates committee hearing was a fine example of this in action.

For example, it revealed that Treasury did not undertake formal modelling of the impact of the guarantee.  The hearing also revealed that the $10.4 billion spending target was essentially plucked out of thin air.

To have government policies out of the public gaze runs the risk that taxpayers' money will be wasted to an even greater extent than is evidenced today.


No comments: