Former Westpac CEO David Morgan’s interview with the Financial Review, in which he laments political interference with the Treasury, reminded me that I asked Shadow Treasurer Chris Bowen a question at his McKell Institute speech on Wednesday regarding how he would deal with the Treasury. In his speech, Bowen had said he was concerned about the independence of Treasury under the current government. At this point, I should note the real issue is whether Treasury is non-partisan. It is certainly not independent of the government, as it has to work for the government of the day.
I asked Chris Bowen whether his concerns about Treasury relate solely to the appointment of Phil Gaetjens, Peter Costello’s former chief of staff, as Treasury Secretary? He said it was more than that, and he was concerned about all the Treasury analysis of Labor’s policies appearing in the media (this Guardian article may be an example of this), and he said Labor never did that while in government. Bowen’s claim may well be correct. I recall from the year and a half I was in the Treasury during the Rudd government that the Treasury was flat out working on the Rudd government’s massive agenda rather than analysing Opposition policies, but I’m sure we would have analysed them if the government requested such analysis. After all, Treasury works for the government of the day. So I’m unsure Bowen has a legitimate complaint here. I’m also unsure why the Opposition is so opposed to Phil Gaetjens, who always struck me as extremely professional. Possibly it’s because he was too good at his job while Costello’s chief of staff.
In his response to my question, the Shadow Treasurer said he would visit the Treasury on his first working day in the job and tell the Treasury staff he will respect them and he wants them to be frank and fearless. I suspect that prior to that he would probably ring up Phil Gaetjens and tell him his services were no longer required.
So who will be the new Treasury Secretary in a Shorten government? In my view, the likely short list includes my old boss and current Treasury Deputy Secretary Maryanne Mrakovcic, former Queensland Treasurer Andrew Fraser, who acts as Bowen’s debating practise partner, former Rudd economic adviser Andrew Charlton, and IMF economist and former Swan adviser Amanda Sayegh.
Asking Chris Bowen my question regarding Treasury at the McKell Institute function at Deloitte, Brisbane, Wednesday 6 March 2019