Next Tuesday is a big Tuesday for financial planners. It’s Budget night. Next Friday, we will give you a comprehensive analysis of the impact of this year’s budget. We always wait a few days before we provide our analysis, allowing us to fully consider the impacts of each year’s budget on our clients. We’d rather be comprehensive than the first to go to press.
But the Budget is very much in the news. So, this week, we are going to have a look at the institution of the Federal Treasurer. The Federal Treasurer is a minister of the federal government. He (and it has always been a he) is responsible for all revenues collected and expenditures made by his government. In most governments, the Treasurer is seen as the second most important minister – after the Prime Minister, of course. Indeed, of Australia’s 35 Federal Treasurers, 13 have gone on to become the Prime Minister – with Scott Morrison being the most recent. Looked at another way, becoming the Treasurer gives a politician a better than one in three chance of later becoming the Prime Minister.
Australia’s first Treasurer was George Turner, a member of what was then known as the Protectionist Party. He had previously been the Premier of Victoria, being the first Australian-born person to hold that office. He had simultaneously been the Treasurer of Victoria. He now has a suburb in Canberra named after him (it’s called Turner, not George).
The first Treasurer to become Prime Minister was Andrew Fisher. Scottish by birth, he emigrated to Australia in 1888 at the age of 23. He settled in Queensland and became the Federal Treasurer in 1908 as a member of the Labour Party. He only lasted 200 days in the job, before rising to become the very temporary Prime Minister of a minority government. Deposed in May 1909, he was then reinstated as Prime Minister in 1910 after a federal election in which the Labour Party gained several more seats and formed government with its own majority. He lost office as Prime Minister in 1913, although reclaimed it in 1914. He remains the only Prime Minister to have occupied that position on three separate occasions. The third time, he was only Prime Minister for one more year and by 1916 he was living in London as Australia’s High Commissioner. While he returned to Australia temporarily, he and his wife eventually settled in London and he died there in 1928.
Perhaps Australia’s most colourful Treasurer, certainly within living memory, was Jim Cairns. Cairns was the Treasurer in the Labor Whitlam government in the first half of the 1970s. As Treasurer, he inherited something of a political mess as the Whitlam Government sought to borrow what were known as ‘petrodollars’ from a source in the Middle East. He ended up being sacked as Treasurer after misleading Parliament over whether he had signed a letter – stating that he simply could not remember signing it. Interestingly, members of the then opposition defended him, arguing that politicians often signed letters of which they had no memory.
A man largely seen as Australia’s most successful Treasurer – including by himself – is Paul Keating. He was Treasurer between 1983 and 1989, and later became Prime Minister between 1991 and 1996. As Treasurer, he oversaw a period of deregulation of the Australian economy, which many people credit for Australia’s current prolonged series of time without an economic recession. Of course, Peter Costello, who was the Treasurer during much of that long period, might claim some credit here as well!
So, when the Treasurer stands up on Tuesday next week to present this year’s budget, he will take his place in a long line of politicians to serve in that role. Only time will tell whether he will become the 14th Treasurer to go on to become Australia’s Prime Minister.