19 May 2020

'Unacceptable' that Treasury officials failed to front at Epidemic Response meeting - Bridges

2:53 pm on 19 May 2020

National says Treasury's failure to front at today's Epidemic Response Committee shows the government is arrogant and happy to dismiss scrutiny.

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Photo: RNZ / Dom Thomas

Treasury Secretary Caralee McLeish was due to appear before the committee this morning to discuss the Budget and Treasury's forecasts, however she was unwell.

Deputy Secretary for the Budget, Struan Little, was also unavailable to appear instead as he is on leave.

National Party Leader Simon Bridges, the committee chair, said it was "entirely unacceptable" that no one else from Treasury was made available.

"We're in a situation where we're borrowing an additional $140 billion, as a country that's $80,000 a household, and we have some remarkable forecasts from the Treasury which certain bank economists have described as highly optimistic.

"These are critical issues for our nation and they deserve scrutiny and they're not going to get them today," Bridges said.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said it was not correct to characterise this as a "no show" by Treasury officials.

"Unfortunately the Secretary of the Treasury is unwell, but has offered to appear later in the week, and I think that's important to point out.

"We have given very strong advice that when people are sick they should stay home and I would expect everyone, regardless of position, to uphold that guidance", Ardern said.

In a statement, a spokesperson for the Treasury said the Committee clerk was contacted early this morning to advise they were unable to attend, and they have been working with the clerk to find an alternative time later in the week to appear.

They said they had also offered to provide written answers to questions they may have in the meantime, and Treasury would also appear before the Finance and Expenditure Committee in June for the usual post-Budget review.

National's Finance spokesperson Paul Goldsmith said the no-show was in addition to Finance Minister Grant Robertson withdrawing from a committee appearance at the last minute last Wednesday.

"This month the Prime Minister's office directed ministers to "dismiss" the media. This is yet another sign of arrogance from this government," Goldsmith said.

Economist Cameron Bagrie opened his submission to the Epidemic Response Committee by saying he was "disappointed" that Treasury had not fronted.

"In fact I'd probably go a little bit stronger and say I think it's unbelievable."

Bagrie told the committee he believed Treasury's forecast for a 'V-shaped' recovery was optimistic, and he expected it would be a more drawn-out process and more of a 'U-shaped' recovery.

"To get a 'V', which is what the Treasury is assuming, you need to have a big basic assumption that there's going to be no changes to in Labour input growth, ie migration, no changes to the foundation for capital stock growth, ie investment, and no changes to productivity growth. Now, I can object on all three levels," Bagrie said.

Bridges said he was hopeful someone from Treasury would appear before the committee tomorrow, but this was not yet confirmed.

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