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Secretary's review

I am pleased to introduce my first annual report as Secretary to the Treasury. It covers one of the most demanding years in the department’s history, and the achievements in this report are a credit to the commitment and dedication of our staff.

Portfolio update

Throughout 2019-20 we were at the forefront of providing economic advice to the Government that supports the effective management of the Australian economy. This is a significant responsibility that relies on our professionalism, judgment and expertise.

Under the leadership of my predecessor Phil Gaetjens, we delivered advice on significant tax reforms and saw the passage of the Protecting Your Super laws. We also established the Centre for Population and put in place a research program focused on understanding Australia’s current and future population, and the reasons and drivers of change.

Phil launched Treasury’s first Inclusion and Diversity Strategy, bringing together a set of action plans that promote inclusive practices. We invested in the wellbeing of our staff through a range of initiatives, such as resilience and mental health workshops and hosted the Canberra leg of the R U OK? Trust the Signs national tour. This investment was eerily prescient given the challenges presented in 2020 for all Australians.

I was appointed as Secretary in September 2019. In my first few months, we were heavily involved in delivering the Government’s financial services reform agenda following the Royal Commission.

Treasury was responsible for a large proportion of Bills introduced into Parliament in the 2019-20 financial year: in total, there were 52 Bills containing 113 measures across the range of our responsibilities.

Throughout the year we provided policy advice on the digital economy. We established the framework for the Consumer Data Right program and assisted the Government in its response to the ACCC’s Digital Platforms Inquiry.

In other work, we supported the independent Retirement Income Review and continued to promote Australia’s interests within forums such as the G20 and the International Monetary Fund. Our international activities included formal dialogues with economic institutions in our region. Our staff posted in Washington DC, London, Paris, Tokyo, Beijing, Jakarta and New Delhi continued to play a crucial role in representing Treasury’s interests, and this year we deployed Treasury officials to Indonesia and Papua New Guinea.

From August 2019-March 2020, our staff visited five regional areas in four states as part of our regional engagement program, giving them a broader perspective of how the economic policies we design affect regional economies. This program was in addition to the many face-to-face and virtual engagement and consultation activities undertaken across the department, including through our Melbourne, Sydney and Perth offices.

In early 2020, following a devastating summer of bushfires across the country, Treasury worked closely with other agencies on preparing the Government’s bushfire response plan. This provided support to affected communities and businesses through the $2 billion Bushfire Recovery Fund and other bushfire assistance policies.

Since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic — the biggest shock to Australia in decades — we have focused on assessing the impact of the COVID-19 shock and providing ongoing advice to the Government on its economic response. We undertook analysis of real-time data and economic projections of the impact of the spread of the virus and Government restriction policies on different sectors of the economy, and advised on the implications for economic recovery. We engaged extensively with the community, including through the establishment of the Coronavirus Business Liaison Unit. All of this informed the development of the Government’s $198 billion COVID 19 Response package released since the onset of the pandemic.

We have played a key role in the delivery of a number of the response measures, including JobKeeper, HomeBuilder, tax incentives to help businesses invest, temporary regulatory measures to assist businesses during the COVID-19 pandemic and implementation of the zero dollar threshold for foreign investment. We have supported significant engagement with the States and Territories, including through the Council of Federal Financial Relations.

To respond to the evolving situation we created new teams and taskforces and established flexible, cross-departmental teams. Despite all the challenges of COVID-19, like the rest of the public service, we adapted effectively to new ways of working.

The year ahead

The year ahead is marked by our ongoing work on the COVID-19 pandemic. Considerable uncertainty about the progression of the virus and its full impact on the economy remains. In the months and years ahead, we will continue to support the COVID-19 economic response measures and recovery work.

We will continue to progress and implement significant reforms to Australia’s foreign investment framework. As well as addressing national security risks and streamlining investments in non-sensitive businesses, the reforms provide additional resources and stronger powers for Treasury to ensure compliance with the foreign investment laws.

We have delivered the 2020-21 Budget and over the remainder of 2020-21 will deliver the Mid-Year Economic and Fiscal Outlook, the 2021-22 Budget, and the next Intergenerational Report, which will assess the long-term sustainability of Government policies.

I want to express my thanks and gratitude to the staff of the Treasury for their hard work and dedication. It has been a demanding year on many fronts and we have delivered advice to Government on the economic outlook and Budget measures on a scale rarely seen in this country, along with directly delivering a number of key Government programs and a significant legislative agenda.

I also want to acknowledge the whole public sector, both Commonwealth and State, who have pulled together in the face of this crisis to coordinate the unprecedented policy response.

I am pleased to report on our performance for the 2019-20 financial year.

Dr Steven Kennedy
Secretary to the Treasury