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Audit Commission's radical calls on health and education now face a political test

ANALYSIS

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Budget pain

The government says it's not the budget, but its Commission of Audit is recommending sweeping spending cuts.

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At less than two weeks before the May 13 budget, the release of the government’s long-awaited National Commission of Audit is as transparently political as the report’s recommendations are purist.

Which is to say the Audit Commission’s recommendations contain a mix of politically achievable and politically toxic measures. These measures will inform, but not dictate the budget, with the recommendations that are not adopted becoming almost as important, in a political sense, as those embraced.

Invariably governments like to exaggerate the severity of decisions looming in a budget so that when it is finally tabled, the final blueprint comes as a relief.

Treasurer Joe Hockey.

Treasurer Joe Hockey. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen

This time is no different except that it is.

Treasurer Joe Hockey has raised expectations of a horror budget, but he has also warned ad nauseam of the need to end the age of entitlement – of the desperate need for governments to make the big fiscal changes required to arrest long-term worsening problems.

The Audit Commission is the objective evidence he needs to justify such decisions.

If anything, that means he will be marked down if he “squibs it” to borrow from the current Coalition talking points.

The guiding philosophy of the commission’s reports will surprise no one.

Compiled by an economically dry panel, chaired by one of the nation’s most powerful business leaders in Tony Shepherd, the common theme is cutting back government expenditure and clamping down on entitlements.

Where you receive a benefit, government assistance, indeed any federal support at all, expect either to lose it or to see it trimmed – often through a harsh tightening of eligibility. More rigorous and comprehensive means tests are the tool of choice and would be applied to nigh on everything from age pensions, to carers’ payments, family payments, and the dole. Indeed, the disgracefully low Newstart allowance (currently $36 a day) would be harder to get, harder to keep, and would cut out faster if you show the initiative to undertake part-time work.

These harsher taper rules would apply to other pensions as well.

Medicines, GP visits, and hospital emergency attendances would also attract user-pays rules with a steeper co-payment advocated than has been flagged.

Students, too, face higher costs, and more expensive loans for university.

On the government’s end of the bargain would be greater efficiency, less duplication, and a radical withdrawal of the Commonwealth from key responsibilities such as health and education.

The states are the new black.

This is the detail behind ending the age of entitlement. You do more for yourself and government does a lot less. It’s a harsher Australia but, Hockey will argue, it’s also a more sustainable one.

Hockey stresses the point: “This is not the budget."

That much is true. There are things in the Audit Commission no government could seriously undertake without a serious political damage. The federal state realignments contain more than a hint of fantasy.

But many will be adopted as well.

We just don’t know which.

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128 comments

  • Don't you mean the Age of Selective Entitlement?

    PPL, mining leases, farmers 'handouts' etc etc

    And why wasn't Direct Action 'audited'?

    Commenter
    Huh?
    Date and time
    May 01, 2014, 2:31PM
    • Direct Inaction did not need auditing, it was already known to be a scam by anyone with even half a brain.

      Commenter
      adam
      Location
      yarrawonga
      Date and time
      May 01, 2014, 2:47PM
    • No mention of taxing the multi-nationals who allowed to take their profits overseas without paying tax in auss(banks, miners etc) either.

      No mention of cutting pollie perks or any richman handouts..noooo

      Just picking on the poor and pensioners and the ordinary working bloke.

      I think they're going to get their healthcare from the US, cause after all their charges no-one will be able to afford to go the dr's here, so they'll all go broke I feel.

      Commenter
      Lemon
      Date and time
      May 01, 2014, 2:56PM
    • Agree but it must begin with politician’s allowances, super, interior designed offices, flights/travel allowances, life gold pass, gifts, taxi vouchers, etc. What the LNP entitlement issues really all about is that affluence will get funding and poverty will trickle down to a non-subsistence level or just starvation a la mode.

      Commenter
      Starvation is the new Affluent
      Date and time
      May 01, 2014, 3:03PM
    • The age of entitlement started with John Howard and his outrageous bribes to the middle classes at the expense of necessary infrastructure (how the peak hour traffic going..) and education (except for private schools..)
      Of course when Labor tried to reign it in - there were howls of class warfare from the redneck and bogan media LNP allies. Since the ABC weren't as agressive and one-eyed parochial - they'll get theirs too!
      Now - the LNP is out for total revenge.....
      They've just fabricated this budget emergency with their media allies and are out to hit you where it hurts - but trust them it will be good for you since their uptown (foreigner) mates ca carry out the lucre laughing all the way to the bank.

      Commenter
      Tadd
      Date and time
      May 01, 2014, 3:18PM
    • We're certainly entering the age of the totally and utterly visionless, going by this 5kg stack of reducto ad absurdum spells.
      The real idiocy of the CoA and this government is that revenues are at historic lows, not that expenditures are beyond our means. Structurally, we do need to revise the middle to upper class welfare for future sustainability, as the structural deficits are largely based on John Howard's cynical electoral bribery, not real welfare need and expenditure. The wealthiest receive the greatest largess along with highly profitable industries, such as mining, to the tune of tens of billions of dollars annually, yet they would seem to want us to believe 'we all have to do the heavy lifting'.
      Until Hickey fronts with what will undoubtedly be a more creeping in change and far less electorally frightening budget however we will not know the true extent of their visionless and intellectually poor nature. This CoA is just a swerve, written by a narrowly focused, vision free and unrepresentative bunch of predictables. An expensive 'look over there' for the public so Joe and Co look less nasty and visionless in comparison come budget time.

      Commenter
      Warwick
      Date and time
      May 01, 2014, 3:20PM
    • Funny how the biggest and most generous welfare perk (ie politicians pension scheme) wasn't mentioned as a possible area to pullback on. I wonder why!!!

      Commenter
      Dave
      Location
      Mosman
      Date and time
      May 01, 2014, 3:30PM
    • Are we getting what we deserve when we elected this crew?
      What the commission is offering is not so much a harsher Australia but a sicker Australia where families in tight financials will not go to doctors or dentists etc because of the fees.
      Unhealthy kids usually create less educated kids and so a poorer educated youth in an emerging "smart, HiTech" global world.

      Do we really want to return to the class wars of the 1950's?

      Commenter
      Bewildered
      Location
      Brisbane
      Date and time
      May 01, 2014, 3:40PM
    • I didn't see the report calling for cuts to the funding of PRIVATE schools

      Commenter
      Paul
      Date and time
      May 01, 2014, 3:56PM
    • Not content with jackbooting their way through Manus Island, and wanting to tamper with free speech, these Tory undesirables want to impoverish the most disadvantaged in our society.
      Roll on the next election.

      Commenter
      Tibsy
      Location
      Queensland
      Date and time
      May 01, 2014, 4:49PM

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