Dodging the numbers question

The Coalition have just announced their costings – you know, the ones that were too sensitive to be given to Treasury? Yes, did it at 5pm Wednesday afternoon, one hour before the second so-called ‘People’s Forum’, seven hours before the election advertising blackout, and two days before the election.

According to Andrew Robb (who, incidentally, thinks it’s so important that we know the Coalition will ‘stop the boats’ that he took time to mention it again … and again … and again during this release of their costings), the Coalition will return the Budget to a surplus of $6.2 billion in the 2012-13 financial year, and reduce the country’s net debt to $66 billion.

That’s a pretty impressive call. It’s about double what the Labor Party says it will deliver. But hold on a second. Before you start thinking about how much lovely money we have, consider these points.

These figures were prepared by an independent firm, WHK Horwath. Robb described it as one of the ‘top five’ in Australia (presumably quoting from their website). This firm has never before been involved in costing something of this magnitude, or at least have not mentioned it – and you’d think something as prestigious as potential federal budget costings would be worth promoting.

Senator George Brandis declared that ‘no serious person would question the integrity of that firm’. I think exactly the opposite is true. A firm entrusted with such an important task should come under the closest examination possible. A firm, incidentally, founded by the former Liberal Premier of Western Australia, Sir Charles Court. But wait – this hasn’t been possible. We just found out their name today, because the Coalition deliberately withheld it.

Now, none of this is to say that there’s something automatically dodgy going on here. But, had we known this firm’s identity beforehand, we could have investigated how independent it was, and whether it was up to the task.

Or better yet, the Coalition could have just given their figures to Treasury.

Then there’s the question of methodology. We don’t know what was used to come up with these figures. It almost certainly isn’t the same one used by the Charter of Budget Honesty – so where is the basis for comparison with Labor’s figures?

The costings have been released, as mentioned before, after close of business very close to the election. This ensures that virtually no scrutiny can take place. Journalists currently questioning Robb and Hockey have only just been handed the documents, and so have to think on their feet. Even the most economically astute journo is going to have difficulty finding substantive questions to ask on the basis of a 30-second scan.

There’s virtually no chance Labor, the Greens or any other interested party could whip up a counter-advertisement in time to shoehorn it in before the advertising blackout. Coincidence?

And just to be completely cynical: isn’t it an awfully good way to grab the prime time news headline?

And then there’s those awfully good figures. We can’t look at them. We have no access to the documents – we’re reliant on the media to untangle them and find out if they’re as good as Robb and Hockey would have us believe they are. How long have the media got?

Two days.

Two days in which to pull apart an entire suite of policies and savings, which – by all accounts, even the Coalition’s, border on the esoteric.

Two days to try and pin down Abbott (described by Robb as ‘the best economically credentialled Prime Minister in Australia’s history – he has a degree in Economics), Robb or Hockey on anything that might be unclear or even faintly dodgy-looking.

Labor’s figures and costings have been made available and constantly updated. The Coalition’s are only just now making it into the hands of media. As @GrogsGamut noted on Twitter, if the Coalition was so very confident of its numbers, why did it take so long to release them at all? Never mind the costings – we didn’t even have a number to discuss.

Joe Hockey said in his announcement that the Coalition’s costings process had been conducted in an ‘open, transparent, honest way’.

Nothing could be further from the truth. The Coalition have sought at every turn to delay, obfuscate and avoid this issue. Its accusations of corruption and criminal activity in Treasury, its pointing the finger at Labor’s own failure to deliver the costings to Treasury and now its eleventh-hour release of the numbers are anything but honest.

The Coalition’s financial spokespersons have successfully sandbagged every person in Australia. We have to take their word for it that their costings are real and that the numbers they provided to WHK Horwath are in line with Treasury figures.

And they have had the hide to try and claim the moral high ground. They would have us believe that they have the right to treat us with contempt, on the basis of a highly convenient leaked document that stems from well before the election was even called.

Effectively, they’ve stood up in front the whole nation and said, ‘You’re just going to have to trust us’.

I don’t think they’ve earned it.

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5 Responses to Dodging the numbers question

  1. […] – at the very least – hopelessly corrupted. Instead, they submitted their numbers to an outside firm, resulting in a series of highly optimistic – and, apparently, highly inaccurate – […]

  2. Hockey always looks uncomfortable in front of the media. I’m not sure we can read anything into his demeanour – but we don’t have to. The story speaks for itself.

  3. Rockstar Philosopher says:

    They’ve still beaten Labour’s efforts at the last election by 2 days… I don’t think the timing is the issue, so much as who the company is. I’m surprised honestly, I would think that any swinging voter left who is worried about economics would jump on this as untrustworthy and begin to wonder what the Libs are trying to hide.

    • Given what’s coming out now – errors in adding up, contingency funds being cut and the news that the figures were allegedly given to this firm long before the so-called ‘leak’ – I think even traditional Coalition voters might well start asking questions.

      There’s no doubt that Labor pulled a very dodgy trick last time round, but for the Coalition to use it as an excuse to do likewise is pretty shoddy.

  4. When Hockey was announcing the costings, he looked so dodgy. Talk about Mr Uncomfortable. And what the hell was with that graph?

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