That the Abbott government will conduct a sweeping review of what it spends its money on, and the interaction of federal and state governments, is to be welcomed.

Australia faces serious economic challenges, not least in the rising health and welfare spend that comes with an ageing population. For too long politicians of all persuasions have copped out from seriously considering or implementing options which would make for a more sustainable budget, but would not be popular with voters.

Crikey particularly welcomes Treasurer Joe Hockey’s ambition to reduce costly duplication between the feds and the states, as part of this Commission of Audit. As Bernard Keane and Glenn Dyer write today:

“The duplication issue should be a centrepiece of the review; Australia, for a nation of 23 million, is monstrously over-governed … This could become a signature reform of the government of Prime Minister Tony Abbott.”

But while we welcome this review, here is a warning for the Coalition. Firstly, there have been endless economic reviews which sit on the shelf gathering dust. Is this another hollow PR exercise? Secondly — due by March? Really? That’s not enough time to do it properly.

And thirdly, the Abbott government will be hamstrung by the lack of a mandate for many options. Tony Abbott chose to forget his “budget emergency” before the 2013 election; his economic plan was similar to Labor’s. Abbott has no mandate to privatise anything except Medibank Private. Should the government wish to make sweeping changes to its budget (or privatise more Commonwealth assets) as a result of this Commission of Audit, it should consider taking those plans to the people at the 2016 election.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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