The Myth of an Independent Treasury
My CIS colleague and former Treasury official Robert Carling has an op-ed on page 21 of today’s Australian (no link, but see text below the fold) noting that neither Treasury nor the Budget papers are independent of the federal government.
The claim that Treasury is an institution independent of government fundamentally misconstrues the relationship between the federal government and the Commonwealth public service. While it is not surprising to see politicians fail Economics 101, it is more surprising to see them also failing Political Science 101. The government now routinely hides behind Treasury and RBA independence and the federal opposition is increasingly accommodating this behaviour through their unwillingness to challenge official sector views.
While the RBA is more independent than Treasury, this independence is limited in scope. At its most basic, RBA independence means that it is free to set interest rates without the approval of the Treasurer, what is often called ‘operational independence.’ This independence in no sense precludes the government or opposition from taking a different view on monetary policy to the RBA or being publicly critical of central bank policy actions, statements and forecasts. The RBA has been made progressively more independent of government precisely in order to facilitate differences of opinion with government. Under the Reserve Bank Amendment (Enhanced Independence) Bill, it is almost impossible to remove the RBA Governor, so public criticism could hardly be viewed as a threat to the Governor’s position. By the same token, the RBA would not be compromising its independence by speaking out on issues relating to its statutory responsibilities, provided it does so in a non-partisan fashion.
Mistaken notions of Treasury and RBA independence are being used to suppress public debate over economic policy, not least by the current government. That the federal opposition and media are accommodating this behaviour on the part of the government can only undermine the robustness of public debate and democratic accountability.
posted on 16 May 2009 by skirchner in Economics, Fiscal Policy, Media, Monetary Policy, Politics
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