The Australian Council of Social Service says the federal Government’s National Commission of Audit must prioritise getting the federal budget on a sustainable footing for the long term, not short term cuts to important programs.
“ACOSS welcomes the commencement of the Commission of Audit and the appointment of Mr Tony Shepherd AO to chair the Commission,” said ACOSS CEO Dr Cassandra Goldie. “The federal Government faces a major fiscal challenge which it can only resolve with concerted effort on both the revenue and expenditure side of the Budget.
“The appointed Commissioners bring excellent skills from business and government to the process. However, the absence of a community representative from civil society means it will be vital that the Commissioners work closely with the community sector . We have every confidence that will be the case.
“Governments will not be able to meet the community’s reasonable expectations of essential services such as better education and health, disability care, decent allowance payments, affordable housing, without action to cut wasteful expenditure and strengthen the tax base.
“While Australia’s public debt is low by international standards, there is an imperative to progressively restore the Budget to surplus as the economy grows. This is needed to make way for future expenditure on essential services as the population ages, and insure against another economic downturn.”
“The reality is that Governments missed the opportunity to close the gap between public revenue and expenditure when tax revenues rose strongly over the past decade. Instead, they responded to community concerns about living standards with a range of ‘quick fixes’, including eight successive income tax cuts and poorly targeted expenditure programs, despite the fact that most people who have secure jobs and housing have been enjoying living standards better then ever before.
“Yet despite two decades of unprecedented growth, a growing number of people are being seriously left behind – poverty, homelessness and long term unemployment are on the rise. We can no longer ignore this.
“The challenge for the Audit Commission is to chart a path to a sustainable Budget while at the same time closing the worst gaps in our social safety net.
“The forthcoming review of the tax system must also play a role in restoring the Budget to sustainability, by strengthening future public revenues. All sectors, including community, business and unions should be invited to participate in a properly structured conversation.
“The Commission of Audit should at least examine tax expenditures (tax breaks) that have the same effect as direct expenditure programs. For example, Australian Governments now spend as much on tax breaks for superannuation as on the age pension. Both are public subsidies to support an adequate retirement income. Tax expenditures equally affect the Budget bottom line, and many are wasteful or poorly targeted.>
“We look forward to supporting the work of the Commissioners to remove real waste so that we can meet real needs. The Audit is an excellent opportunity to engage the public in a balanced, forward-looking debate about what should be the responsibility of government, how public money is spent in Australia, and how we will fund the essential services and infrastructure we all need into the future,” Dr Goldie said.
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