Scott Morrison using Treasury as ‘political battering ram’, says Chris Bowen | Australia news


The shadow treasurer, Chris Bowen, says Scott Morrison is politicising the Treasury and is intent on turning the prestigious commonwealth agency into a “political battering ram”.

Bowen used the opportunity afforded by a budget reply speech at the National Press Club to declare on Wednesday that Morrison was using the treasury as “a crutch to support government policies”.

“There is a pattern of this treasurer commissioning treasury work, releasing it selectively to some journalists and not releasing the full work for full proper scrutiny,” Bowen said in response to questions after his speech.

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The shadow treasurer said that on at least one occasion Morrison’s office had claimed to have Treasury material when it turned out the work had been carried out in his ministerial office.

Bowen appeared to be referring to an example in August last year in which News Corp tabloids published stories claiming “new modelling” from the parliamentary budget office and treasury showed Labor’s policies would increase the tax burden on Australian households by more than $100bn.

The PBO promptly corrected the public record, saying it wasn’t involved in the analysis. Morrison later acknowledged the figures were not from new PBO modelling but were an extrapolation from work conducted in the previous year.

Bowen said the conduct amounted to “a politicisation of the treasury, which is not on”. He said if Labor won the next federal election, he intended to pursue a “productive, professional working relationship with the Treasury, and I will not be engaging in the politicisation of the treasury like this treasurer has – used it as a crutch to support government policies”.

The shadow treasurer used Wednesday’s speech to signal Labor would return the budget to balance in the same year as the Turnbull government before delivering larger surpluses over the forward estimates and the medium term in an effort to build a buffer against a potential global economic shock.

Bowen also indicated Labor would increase the top marginal tax rate, reinstating a deficit levy the Turnbull government scrapped last year, and maintaining that position until the budget returned to a “sustainable surplus”.

He didn’t define a specific number at which the surplus would be considered sustainable, but he said it would need to be more than 0.1% of GDP.

The shadow treasurer also demanded the government release a new review of the GST distribution arrangements by the productivity commission so that voters can understand the consequences of any change on state and territory finances ahead of the looming super Saturday of byelections triggered by the high court’s decision last week in the Katy Gallagher case.

“There is no excuse not to release it,” Bowen said. “I don’t expect him to release it on the day he got it. Fair enough. Take it home and read it. But then share it with the rest of us.

“It doesn’t need weeks. It should be released this week.”

Bowen also continued to call on the government to split the legislation for its $140bn in personal income tax cuts.

Labor has signalled it will support the proposed tax cuts for low- and middle-income earners, but is continuing to hold out on stages two and three of the government’s plan which delivers benefits for high income earners.

Morrison, who is on a roadshow selling the budget as the major parties prepare their campaigns of the super Saturday of byelections, was underwhelmed by Bowen’s press club pitch.

“Their promises and pledges on balancing the books are unbelievable,” the treasurer said. “We’ve seen this movie before with Wayne Swan and his four magical surpluses he said he would deliver and never did – this is Wayne’s World two.”

Guardian Australia has sought a response from the treasurer on Bowen’s argument about politicisation of the Treasury.



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