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Govt stands by claims of Coalition $10B hole -

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TONY EASTLEY: The predictable election row over policy costings has taken an unusual turn, with an intervention by the Federal Treasury and Finance departments to correct the record and cast doubt on what's been said by Labor.

The Coalition says it's an extraordinary move and tarnishes the Prime Minister's credibility.

Kevin Rudd and senior ministers used Treasury and Finance documents yesterday to claim the Coalition had a $10 billion black hole in its savings measures.

The Government is holding its line and says the Coalition could clear up the dispute by immediately releasing its full details and costings.

The Treasurer Chris Bowen has been speaking to chief political correspondent Sabra Lane.

SABRA LANE: Chris Bowen, has the Government been caught politicising the public service by deliberately deciding to release their advice to you to back up the Government's claim of a black hole?

CHRIS BOWEN: Not at all, and we stand by every single word that we said yesterday.

Sabra, the Opposition released a table of costings that they claimed represent the impact on the budget of savings so far. We pointed out yesterday that that is just plain wrong.

And we released advice to the Government from the Treasury and the Department of Finance that we made clear yesterday, was provided to us before the caretaker period, and we made clear was dependent on the assumptions that went into the costings. We made that clear in our press conference and that's very similar to what the departments of Treasury and Finance said later in their statement.

SABRA LANE: And as they say, that was an extraordinary statement. They advised, this is the Treasury secretary Martin Parkinson and Finance Department secretary David Tune, that neither of them have examined the Opposition's policies and any modelling used for costing government policies before the election couldn't really be credibly applied to the Opposition here. That's a damning indictment of you, is it not?

CHRIS BOWEN: No, I don't accept that analysis Sabra. And let's look, let's go through this.

For example we released yesterday Treasury advice that abolishing the low income superannuation contribution, which is Opposition policy, would save $1.7 billion. The Opposition has claimed $3.7 billion. Now that's the Opposition's policy, to abolish that contribution.

SABRA LANE: And the Department of Finance and Treasury have said that different assumptions would generate different financial outcomes.

CHRIS BOWEN: Absolutely. I agree with that, absolutely. I said that yesterday, the Government has said that. For example, an assumption about when that policy starts. Now if the Opposition is making that policy retrospective to 2012 then it would save $3.7 billion. That's an important assumption.

Sabra, the Opposition should release their assumptions. If they are saying this change is retrospective, they should be up-front about it.

SABRA LANE: Labor issued a press release of its own in April this year saying that measure was costed at $4 billion.

CHRIS BOWEN: Well, that's the case if it's a retrospective and if it applied that was the costing in 2012. Now we got an updated costing which we released yesterday.

SABRA LANE: Labor MP Andrew Leigh says he asked the Parliamentary Budget Office to cost the public service cuts. The Parliamentary Budget officer Phil Bowen says yesterday that it was inappropriate to claim that it's costed any policy other than those submitted by a party itself. In bureaucratic speak, it's a pretty strong rejection of that statement, isn't it?

CHRIS BOWEN: No again Sabra, it's Opposition policy to sack 12,000 public servants. Mr Leigh asked for that to be costed.

Now again, there are assumptions that are important here. For example, is it natural attrition or is it forced redundancies? Now the Opposition has said elsewhere that it's natural attrition. Is that what the Parliamentary Budget Office costed? Well, we don't know.

Mr Hockey, if he's so sure he's on strong ground, could release his costings today, all of them, the full details, the paperwork, just as we did yesterday.

SABRA LANE: The documents that you did release yesterday are from earlier in this year, prior to the caretaker period, with expiry dates listed on the documents. One even stipulates that calculations have been done using, quote, "a broad rule of thumb". How can they be reliable given those caveats?

CHRIS BOWEN: Well again, Sabra, we released them. We released them in full transparency for all to read. Opposition could do the same. The Opposition has released a one page table with $30 billion at the bottom of it as their figure.

We pointed out yesterday for example that that's done on an accrual basis, not a cash basis. That means it doesn't hit the budget bottom line. They're false savings.

Now nobody can question that. That is a fact. Mr Hockey has admitted that. He's changed the rules to maximise his figure. That is quite a substantial thing for him to have done.

So the Opposition still has a good deal of explaining to do here. And as I say, if they are so sure that they're right then release their full costings, release the assumptions and be clear with the Australian people.

SABRA LANE: If you want the Opposition to release its full documents, will you release all the Treasury working papers on your own policies?

CHRIS BOWEN: We've released what we have in our possession Sabra. We've released them. And we have policies up on the Treasury website they have costed for us. The Opposition has none.

SABRA LANE: If the Opposition releases its Parliamentary Budget Office documents and it shows that the $10 billion figure is wrong, will you apologise for misleading voters?

CHRIS BOWEN: Well, Sabra, we won't apologise for being clear and transparent with the Australian people and for releasing the information at our disposal.

SABRA LANE: What are voters to make of the Prime Minister's comments this week about foreign investment? Previously he said he's an economic conservative. Now he says he's an economic nationalist. Last year he said the foreign investment balance was about right. Now he's saying he's anxious about it. He's sounding a little like an economic populist, isn't he?

CHRIS BOWEN: No, I think he's making the point that foreign investment is a good thing for Australia. We welcome it. But it' important there be transparency and rigour on a case-by-case basis and that there be public confidence in foreign investment.

It's one of the reasons why we've announced the register of foreign land ownership: to instil that public confidence in what is a controversial area. There's low levels of foreign ownership of agricultural land. That might not necessarily be the public perception. If you can introduce more transparency to the process, that's a good thing.

SABRA LANE: Elders' managing director Malcolm Jackson has told the financial review that the Prime Minister's comments are a cruel joke and the National Farmers Federation says it's been surprised by his comments as it hasn't been Labor policy for the last two years.

CHRIS BOWEN: Well again the Agriculture Minister released a policy earlier this week which went to the land register. And we are in favour of foreign investment where it's in the national interest. That's always been our position and we assess these things on a case-by-case basis.

SABRA LANE: Minister, polling out this morning shows that you are in danger of losing your seat. Bookies have already started paying out on a Coalition win. How can Labor turn this around in a week?

CHRIS BOWEN: Well, Sabra, it's often, as the Finance Minister said, the favourite doesn't always win the Melbourne Cup and just because you're ahead at three-quarter time in an AFL game doesn't mean you're going to win. We will take this election to the wire. We'll campaign and earn every vote and we'll be campaigning very solidly and strongly right up to Saturday.

TONY EASTLEY: The Federal Treasurer Chris Bowen speaking there with our chief political correspondent, Sabra Lane.