Managing the news cycle

Peter Martin draws attention to the Australian Treasury press release listing the adjusted figures for the government surplus in 2006-07:

Preliminary estimates indicate that the Australian Government general government sector recorded an underlying cash surplus of $17.3 billion for 2006-07, which is $3.7 billion higher than expected at the time of the 2007-08 Budget.

A commenter on Peter’s site asks the obvious question:

Is it a good thing that treasury gets it’s numbers so consistently wrong? Who is responsible for the mistake – in this case an error of 27%. If it had gone 27% the other way who would have copped it?

27% is indeed a very large adjustment, and it’s rather difficult to imagine this sort of revision being made in the other direction. It is possible that the adjustment is just as much a surprise to Mr Costello as it (nominally) is to the media, but I suspect that it was always known – or at least believed – in the Treasury that the figures included in the 2007-08 Budget were too low. They will have, at best, decided to err on the side of caution (in case their internal numbers were wrong or there was a sudden crisis that worked against it) and, at worst, knowingly understated the true figures in order to guarantee the political capital boost they’d get later in the election cycle (i.e. now) when the upwardly revised figures were released.

I’ll leave it up to the audience to come to their own conclusions on which is the more likely explanation.

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