Wed. Jul 6th, 2022

The last week of campaigns used to be frantic, behind the scenes.

In public, right up until the final week, the leaders would make all sorts of promises, many of them expensive, with nary a mention of the spending cuts or tax increases that would be needed to pay for them.

Then, in a ritual as Australian as the stump jump plow, days before the vote the leaders’ treasury spokesman would quietly release pages and pages of costings detailing “savings”, which (astoundingly) almost exactly covered what they were spending, meaning they could declare their promises “fully funded.”

It was a trap for oppositions. Whereas governments seeking re-election could have their savings costed by the enormously well-resourced departments of treasury and finance before campaigns began, oppositions were forced to rely on little-known accounting firms with little background in government budgeting.

The errors, usually not discovered until after people voted, were humiliating.

Costings time was danger time

In 2010, a treasury analysis of the opposition costings prepared by the Coalition’s treasury spokesman Joe Hockey and finance spokesman Andrew Robb found errors including double counting, booking the gains from a privatization without booking the dividends that would be lost, and purporting to save money by changing a budget convention.

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