Brrrm! Brrrm! Both sides rev up the Budget chainsaw
Former NSW premiers seem back in fashion this week which might inspire Tony Abbott to announce that Nick Greiner would be on his proposed Commission of Audit.
The Opposition Leader wants the audit as a potential threshing machine to run through national public spending should the Coalition win government, so he might as well hire someone who knows how to drive one.
Abbott says the heritage of his plan for a full and arguably independent audit of government books lies with John Howard and Peter Costello back in 1996.
But this is merely part of his strained claim to a direct connection with what he calls the “golden period” of economic management under the former Coalition administration.
Actually it was Greiner, NSW Liberal Premier from 1988 to 1992, who created the Commission of Audit concept as a vehicle to support implementation of long-held economic policy and philosophy as a matter of urgency.
In large part it also was an excuse machine for brutal fiscal action and deferment of promises, and Tony Abbott might need it if he gains government.
Events back in 1988 showed Abbott what such a device could do for him.
Based on its audit findings the Greiner government attacked costs almost everywhere and didn’t flinch from hitting the politically sensitive education niche.
Free public transport for pupils was scrapped, composite classes were introduced and the public education workforce was cut by 2,400 teachers and 800 support staff. Hundreds of millions worth of privatisation projects were identified.
As Bob Carr, Greiner’s Labor successor (1995-2005) and this week a new senator and Foreign Minister, noted last year of the Commission of Audit process: “It presented alarming material about trends in state debt and revenues and was designed to provide a justification for Greiner breaking election promises not to increase taxes and charges beyond the CPI. “
If Tony Abbott wins government at the scheduled election late next year he will need the endorsement of an independent audit to back up his current warnings of spending running out of control. Because he can’t at the moment.
Whoever is Prime Minister or Treasurer will need to cut spending because federal tax revenue is falling, as shown by last week’s national output figures.
Miners are exporting in record amounts but the prices they are getting are dropping. Domestic consumers remain cautious and growth in their spending is hardly discernible.
The whack on profits and tax returns caused by the Global Financial Crisis and subsequent slumps in the US and Europe continues to sting.
It’s not a matter of the Government wasting money. It’s that the Government does not have money to run all existing programs. The distinction is stark and important.
Treasurer Wayne Swan will have to include “nasties” in his Budget next May simply to reach his commitment of a piddling $1.5 billion surplus.
Even the election-year Budget of 2013-14 will have to be tough and without traditional handouts.
Costs have to be reduced and the more Swan does that cutting the fewer genuine options are left for Tony Abbott and Joe Hockey whose biggest promises so far have been to scrap carbon pricing and the National Broadband Network.
However, these are largely off Budget. Among the limited number of Budget cutting policies the Opposition has offered so far is the abolition of the Climate Change department.
Tony Abbott last week said he would slash public service numbers by asking the Commission of Audit to look at why we have 6000 in the Health Department when the Commonwealth doesn’t run a single hospital or nursing home, and why the Education Department has 5000 staff when it doesn’t run a single school.
But even now it is difficult to justify claims of large areas of waste in the public service, as Liberal senator for the ACT Gary Humphries keeps telling Tony Abbott.
“I think they will find some (but) personally I think it’s exaggerated,” Senator Humphries told Canberra radio on Friday.
“I don’t think we see as much waste as we once did. Agencies that used to have a lot of fat often have much less fat than they did.”
That could mean that the only option for Wayne Swan and possibly later for Tony Abbott will be to cut services.
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Up to the minute Twitter chatter
@ClaireRPorter get out
@AndrewCatsaras I recall as a youngster finding the women in that scene very, ahem, interesting.
@GerardDaffy Yeah, it was silly. Still, going on comments readers are liking it. It was a shockingly violent news day. People need relief
RT @GrogsGamut: QUESTION: But in terms of that discussion though, is he misquoting you with that?TONY ABBOTT: You’ve had your say. http://t…
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