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Wednesday, 13 November 2013
Page: 196

National Commission of Audit


Senator WONG (South AustraliaLeader of the Opposition in the Senate) (14:13): My question is to the Leader of the Government in the Senate, the Minister representing the Prime Minister. I refer to the Prime Minister's election commitment and his absolute assurance to the Australian people that this government would not make any cuts to health and education. Can the minister rule out any cuts to health and education programs for the term of this government?


Senator ABETZ (TasmaniaLeader of the Government in the Senate, Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for the Public Service and Minister for Employment) (14:13): This may come as a shock to those opposite, but this government has every intention of abiding by its election promises.

Honourable senators interjecting

The PRESIDENT: When there is silence we will proceed. Senator Wong is wanting to ask a question, and Senator Wong is entitled to be heard in silence. When there is silence, I will call Senator Wong.



Senator WONG (South AustraliaLeader of the Opposition in the Senate) (14:13): Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. I refer the minister to the Treasurer's statement in announcing the Commission of Audit in which he made it clear that no area of the budget was ruled out, declaring there were no restrictions. I will also refer the minister to the terms of reference of the commission, which do not rule out any cuts to health or education. So I again ask what I asked in my first question: can the minister rule out any cuts to health or education programs for the term of this government?


Senator ABETZ (TasmaniaLeader of the Government in the Senate, Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for the Public Service and Minister for Employment) (14:14): What we have said very clearly is—

Senator Wong interjecting

The PRESIDENT: Order! You have asked the question, Senator. The minister is entitled to answer—

Honourable senators interjecting

The PRESIDENT: Order on both sides!




Senator ABETZ (TasmaniaLeader of the Government in the Senate, Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for the Public Service and Minister for Employment) (14:15): It really does come as a shock to those opposite that we can have a government in this country that has every intention of abiding by its election promises. In relation to health and education, we have said that the totality of the moneys made available in those portfolios would remain. What we have also said is that we will look at the quality of the spend in areas to ascertain whether money can be redirected and, as a result, get even better results but within the parameters of those two portfolio areas. We were very specific in relation to that. So if the minister asks about programs et cetera, she is getting into the weeds and the detail; but in relation to the total parameters we have said that health funding and education funding will remain. But can we spend it better sometimes? I think so. (Time expired)


Senator WONG (South AustraliaLeader of the Opposition in the Senate) (14:16): Mr President, I ask a further supplementary question. Minister, isn't there a simple explanation for your refusal today to rule out program cuts, for the Treasurer's statement and for the Commission of Audit's mandate, and that is this: the government has absolutely no intention of honouring the Prime Minister's pre-election commitment?


Senator ABETZ (TasmaniaLeader of the Government in the Senate, Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for the Public Service and Minister for Employment) (14:16): I just wish Senator Wong would not judge us according to her own standards. The past six years were a litany of broken promise after broken promise after broken promise, and that is the basis on which the Labor opposition seeks to judge us. I can indicate—

Opposition senators interjecting

Senator ABETZ: if the Leader of the Opposition can just close it down for a little while, I can advise that the coalition government's Commission of Audit will look at the whole of government. No area of government is excluded. The coalition government will abide by—

Senator Wong: There you go. Thank you.

Senator ABETZ: Listen, listen! We will abide by our election promises. On education we have guaranteed to retain the schools funding profile of the previous government over the forward estimates period. On health we have said we will look for efficiencies but our intention is to get every possible health dollar away from administration. (Time expired)