Thursday, January 24, 2013

Giving the new leaf at Treasury the flick

The jury's still out on the newish head wonk at Treasury, but the evidence is not looking good. In fact, the only leaf of Treasury statements I'll be turning with anticipation will be the ones written on toilet-grade paper. And it's big thanks to selective Welfare Hawk Lindsay Mitchell for pointing it out to me.

Lindsay is upset, as usual, at how much is spent on solo Mums, etc. She has the latest Treasury paper to prove it too. The report is all fire and brimstone for the slackers, even when the figures show that there's not much of a problem. As a percentage of GDP, "Working Age Welfare" is lower now than it was in the 1990's after Shipley's benefit cuts. By all measures, it has never been less attractive to be on welfare.

What about the great grey gorilla in the room though? What about that colossus of welfare that dwarves these Liliputian expenses? What about Superannuation?

Well, it's all peaches and cream for the subjects in the corresponding report, titled The Future Costs of Retirement Income Policy, and Ways of Addressing Them. No moralising or sneering at these welfare recipients. There's lots of furrow-browing over poverty levels in the elderly, manifesting in colourful decoy patterns such as (I kid you not) the Living Standards Framework Pentagon (pg. 9).

The "Working Age Welfare" report didn't waste time discussing any of their subject's poverty levels, polygonal or otherwise.  It's conclusions were all based on historical figures, with few projections. The Super report was the antithesis, all fluffy futures and sweet FA historical context.

The most amazing thing about this panglossian brighter future was that, unlike Lindsay's Bennie Bash, nowhere in this report does it state how much Superannuation costs. It's mentioned obliquely as a percentage of GDP well down in the volume, and that's the last they'll look at that. I thought I must just have been high, so I searched the document for "$" and then "dollars". Apart from mention of the cryogenically-frozen Cullen Fund, no mention of actual dollars.

You have to go to Treasury's Budget page to get a straight answer to compare Lindsay's bad apples to the honest, salt-of-the-earth good old apples. Lindsay's horrified by the $13 billion a year "Working Age Welfare" quoted. For the 2010/11 year, the Superannuation was $8,822 million (not including SuperGold scard spending). The same sworn document says the "Working Age Welfare" budget was $4,878 million.

Even with the Working For Families bloat (which is welfare for the kids, not the working age), these costs are capped. All the indicators on the affordability of Superannuation point the wrong way. Yet it has never been a better time to retire, and that's not counting the other perks like the Gold Card millions or the ginormous chunks of Health dollar.

The game is rigged and the boomers got away with it. And no amount of sophistry and ignorance out of Treasury will change that.