Rob Heferen

"It may be that others have seen it and have been sworn to secrecy, but I'm not aware of anyone having seen it": Rob Heferen. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen

A top Treasury official has admitted that no one he knows has seen a copy of the Abbott government’s Commission of Audit report yet, despite Coalition promises it will be released before the May 13 budget, which is less than a month away.

It comes as leading economist John Quiggin, an Australian Research Council Federation fellow, slammed the Commission of Audit as a “piece of political theatre,” saying there is no way in which its outcomes will be serious.

Appearing before a senate select committee on Tuesday, the executive director of the Federal Treasury’s Revenue Group, Rob Heferen, told federal senators he had not yet seen the Commission of Audit report.

Mr Heferen, when asked by Labor Senator Sam Dastyari if he had seen the report, said no one in Treasury had, to his knowledge.

“It may be that others have seen it and have been sworn to secrecy, but I’m not aware of anyone having seen it,” Mr Heferen admitted.

The Abbott government will use the findings from the Commission is Audit to inform its budget plans.

It comes as Professor Quiggin, from the University of Queensland, appeared before a Senate Select Committee on Tuesday to answer questions about the Commission of Audit.

The professor was scathing about the Commission, saying history showed it was a “routine feature” of changes of government from Labor to the Coalition over the past 25 years.

“The object [of such Commissions] is to provide an apparently independent authority for polices which for various reasons won’t have been announced in the lead up to an election campaign,” Mr Quiggin said.

“There is a somewhat similar exercise when things go the other way, but the specific ritual of a commission of audit is one undertaken solely by the LNP side of politics.”

The Commission of Audit would “invariably” find that the former Labor government made a major fiscal mess of things and substantial cuts to expenditure would be needed, he said.

And the handling of such commissions depends on the political situation in the first few months of the government’s position.

“When things are going well for the incoming government a major [news] splash is made with these reports to soften up the public for their changes,” Mr Quiggin said.

“[But] when things are going relatively badly, as is the case this time, the report is kept under wraps until the last possible moment.”

It comes as the Parliamentary Budget Office released on Tuesday its assessment of changes in the source and amount of federal government revenue from the period between 1983 and 2013.

The report showed that income taxes, while still the largest source of receipts, have fallen from 12.2 per cent of GDP in 1982–83 to 10.9 per cent of GDP in 2012–13.

“This reflects a decline in personal income tax that has more than offset the impact of the introduction of new taxes on fringe benefits and superannuation contributions,” the report said.

Over the last decade taxes on consumption have declined steadily to 5.4 per cent of GDP in 2012–13.

This reflects a combination of policy, including tariff cuts and non-indexation of fuel tax excise, and economic developments such as the increase in the household saving ratio and noticeable shifts in consumption patterns away from taxed items.

Company tax receipts almost doubled as a proportion of total receipts, reflecting an increase in corporate profits as a share of GDP.

“However, this increase was mostly offset by a large fall in resource rent taxes over the period, reflecting a sharp decline in the contribution of offshore oil production to economic activity,” the report said.

Overall, the shows Australian Government receipts have averaged around 24.1 per cent of Gross domestic product (GDP) over the past 30 years, with economic growth being the main driver of receipts.

It came after Mr Quiggin dismissed the idea that the Commonwealth was in a position of “fiscal crisis.”

“Debt is very low by international standards and the budget is close to an operating balance, where the debt-to-GDP ratio would be stable,” he said.