National Commission of Audit chair Tony Shepherd. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen
The head of Prime Minister Tony Abbott's Commission of Audit, Tony Shepherd, has lashed out at ''modern Australian attitudes'' for the hostile response to the budget.
The Audit Commission, which provided a blueprint for Treasurer Joe Hockey's first budget, had ''agonised'' about spreading the burden across the community. But no single sector, including education, had accepted it must sacrifice, Mr Shepherd told Fairfax Media.
''I think it's a sad reflection on the modern Australian attitude that they can't see that all areas have to make a contribution and they look at it as a narrow, sectional issue,'' he said.
''People will protect their sectional interest, that's understandable, but I wish people could also stand back, look at the overall picture of the Commonwealth budget and rather than say 'don't touch me', say 'what can be our contribution to a sustainable surplus'.''
The government is facing widespread protest from groups as diverse as students, pensioners, welfare recipients, state governments and the health and education sectors.
Mr Hockey adopted the commission's recommendation to pull the plug on Gonski education funding from 2018 and instead link increases to inflation and wages.
In a speech on Wednesday, David Gonski criticised the government and the commission for gutting multibillion-dollar funding commitments. He said ''the concept of aspiration'' in schools funding would end in 2017 and urged the government to reverse its decision.
Mr Shepherd returned fire, describing the Gonski reforms as a ''fine idea'', while saying commission members agreed with needs-based funding, but retaining the $5-billion-a-year extra funding would have to come at the expense of other sectors to bring the budget back into balance.
''We would love to have kept education funding at the levels of Gonski, but we had to go through every program and bring [spending] under control. To maintain Gonski, you must answer the question: do we cut hospitals more or cut disabled pensions more, lower the rate of growth in the aged pension?'' he said.
Mr Shepherd said a twin layer of education bureaucracy was a ''waste of money'' and renewed calls for the states to ''quit the education and health space''.
''States that preside over a bad [school] system will be punished by voters and those that have good ones will be rewarded. That's competitive federalism,'' he said.
Mr Abbott, who encountered 100 Gonski demonstrators in Hobart on Thursday, said Labor's Gonski commitments were ''pie in the sky''.