The federal government is keeping its national commission of audit so tightly under wraps even its top advisers haven’t seen it yet.
With less than a month to go until the government hands down its first budget on May 13, the findings and recommendations of the audit remain a secret beyond the office of Prime Minister Tony Abbott and a few cabinet ministers, including Treasurer Joe Hockey.
A Senate hearing into the audit on Tuesday heard Treasury has yet to read the commission’s interim report into government spending that was handed to the government in mid-February, or the final report that was completed at the end of March.
Executive director of Treasury’s Revenue Group Ron Heferen told the hearing he had not seen the report and was not aware that anyone else in Treasury had seen it.
“It may be that others have seen it and have been sworn to secrecy, but I’m not aware of anyone having seen it,” he said.
Professor of the Australian National University’s tax institute and former Liberal leader, John Hewson, believes the audit, while looking at government spending, really needs to be looked at alongside a review of taxation.
He said there are currently $120 billion of concessions enshrined in the tax system – the biggest being for superannuation, housing and the GST – which will rise to $150 billion in 2016/17, the highest as a proportion of gross domestic product of any other developed country.
“They should be seen together in any review of government expenditure,” Dr Hewson told the hearing.
Separately, the Parliamentary Budget Office in an analysis of taxes over the past 30 years found that federal government tax receipts have averaged 24.1 per cent of GDP with no definitive upwards or downward trends in that period.
Despite significant tax reform over the period, the net impact of policy decisions changing taxation rates and their coverage has had a much less significant impact on total receipts than the key driver of economic growth.
Australia continues to rely more heavily on direct taxes than most other OECD countries, despite the introduction of the GST, it said.