Treasurer Joe Hockey and Finance Minister Senator Mathias Cormann announce the establishment of a Commission of Audit on October 22. 2013.

Treasurer Joe Hockey and Finance Minister Senator Mathias Cormann announce the establishment of a Commission of Audit on October 22. 2013. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen

  • Commission of Audit live blog with Judith Ireland from 2pm

The closely guarded secrets and recommendations of the long-awaited Commission of Audit will finally be revealed on Thursday at 2pm, the first time in almost two decades such a report has been assembled for the Australian government. 

As Fairfax Media exclusively reported before the official release on Thursday, the Commission has recommended massive cuts to the size of government, with whole agencies to be abolished, privatised, or devolved to the states, in what would be the biggest reworking of the federation ever undertaken.

Among its 86 recommendations are calls for the axing of multiple agencies and the surrender of huge swathes of responsibility back to the states in education, health, and other services.

The Abbott government will reveal its response to much of what the Commission of Audit recommends when it hand down its first budget on May 13. 

But what exactly is the National Commission of Audit and who makes up this powerful razor gang of five?  

The National Commission of Audit was officially announced by Treasurer Joe Hockey, and Finance Minister Senator Mathias Cormann, on October 22, 2013.

The Commission – a “razor gang” assembled by the government to look at the budget and identify waste, duplication and advise on tough spending decisions – is led by Tony Shepherd, former Business Council of Australia president and chairman of Transfield Services.

Mr Shepherd's appointment was seen as being particularly controversial because as head of the BCA he had been critical of the previous Labor government policies such as the National Disability Insurance Scheme and the Gonski schools funding reforms.

His appointment was also questioned because of his links to companies that had benefited from government contracts.

Mr Shepherd stepped down as chairman of Transfield Services upon his elevation to the Commission of Audit. Transfield, a construction and services firm, won a string of contracts in recent years worth hundreds of millions of dollars, including the contract for maintenance and support services at the Nauru detention centre.

The other commissioners are former senator and minister in the Howard government, Amanda Vanstone, and three Canberra mandarins, former senior public servants Peter Boxall, Tony Cole and Robert Fisher.

Australia last had a Commission of Audit in 1996, during the first year of John Howard’s first term in office.

The CoA’s official task, under its stated charter, is to advise the government on where it can get greater efficiency and responsiveness from the public budget.

The Commissioner’s are expected to look at – and recommend on - potentially tough options such as co-payments and user charges, privatisation, chopping government grants and slashing the public service.

In particular, the terms of reference state the CoA should:

- Ensure taxpayers received value for money from every dollar spent

- Eliminate wasteful spending.

- Identify duplication between spending by federal, state and local governments and decide if the private or community sector can do it better.

Announcing the CoA in October, Mr Hockey said that it would be a "line by line" look at all spending and that "nothing" was ruled out.

The Commission was given the power to recommend "anything" that was reasonable to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the government.

Mr Abbott and Mr Hockey have come in for some criticism over the timing of the report's release, with the opposition accusing the government of confecting a budget emergency and of deliberately waiting to reveal budget cuts and the CoA report until after the polls in former prime minister Kevin Rudd's seat of Griffith, the Senate in Western Australia and state elections in Tasmania and South Australia.

The CoA report will handed down on Thursday in a budget-style lock up of journalists in Canberra with full details available publicly from 2pm.