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Treasury boffins not 'pencil-heads living in an ivory tower', Makhlouf says

Thursday 1st November 2012

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New Zealand's Treasury secretary Gabriel Makhlouf says his department is seeking to be more outward facing to dispel the impression of "pencil-heads living in an ivory tower."

"I'm conscious that if the Treasury wants to build public understanding and turn perceptions around - to gain a reputation that better matches the reality of the organisation I lead, the importance of the work we do, and the talents of the people I work with - then we have to earn it," Makhlouf told a lunch meeting of the Trans-Tasman Business Circle.

His speech was titled 'The Changing Face of the Treasury' and said it was part of a wider phenomenon where people were "re-examining a few economic assumptions that used to be taken for granted, or asking what the objective of economic policy should be, or even whether the economic growth that has occurred in the last 250 years was an historical anomaly that is now over."

"The world is in the midst of what will be a prolonged period of instability and risk - an age of volatility," the former British civil servant said. "Rapid changes in economic power under way now will mean that the structure of the global economy is likely to be very different in 10 years' time."

One of those changes is the emerging economies in Asia. While the US and Europe will remain large and relatively wealthy, "it's pretty clear that for the foreseeable future, emerging markets - particularly in the Asia-Pacific region - are where the action will be."

The 'pencil-heads' comment was left by a member of the public on the website and Makhlouf said he's received direct emails saying the Treasury produces reports and predictions, mostly wrong.

He cited the Treasury's in-house Living Standards Framework that attempts to establish a framework for the department's work and proves, he says, that Treasury's view of the world "is far broader than many people realise."

"The Treasury recognises that living standards are affected by physical and financial resources such as infrastructure, housing and savings, people's health, education and skills, social institutions and conventions and natural resources such as water quality, a stable climate and biodiversity," he said.

The Treasury needs to widen its ambit to be more than "crunching numbers, stretching dollars and pinching pennies," he said. Under his leadership he wants the department to become "an exciting and energetic hothouse of ideas" and one "renowned for credible analysis and well-researched evidence that presents a more complete picture of complex issues."

He cited the Treasury's work on the quality of teachers in schools as a "controversial" example of the department's wider gaze.

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