24 October 2022

Budget 'saves' or just a reprofile or two?

| Chris Johnson
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Katy Gallagher

Katy Gallagher says the government has found $22 billion in “saves”. Photo: Michelle Kroll.

‘Reprofiling’ is the term the Federal Government has seized upon and decided to use with gusto while talking about this week’s budget.

The Federal Government says it has found about $22 billion in budget savings, a figure which includes reprioritising existing funds.

Reprioritising – or reprofiling – is just moving the same money around to different projects.

While the government has every right to spend money according to its policy agenda (particularly the one it took to the election) and to allocate funds where it sees the need, that can hardly be described as savings.

“There’s been a fair bit of interest in the work that’s being done on the spending audit across government,” Finance Minister Katy Gallagher said on Monday (24 October).

“So we’ve found in total about $22 billion worth of saves, which we are able to partly return to the budget for budget repair, but also to reallocate or reprioritise to better align with government priorities.

“Those savings have been found across government, so it’s across a whole range of portfolios and departments.”

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The government has looked at most departments in its search for savings.

The public service spend on external consultants is one area where savings can be found, but no one should expect Tuesday’s federal budget to include any initiative that wipes out contractors in one fell swoop.

Some small steps will be made in that direction included in the budget document, but replacing the bulk of consultancy contracts with in-house labour will be an ongoing task (read, pipedream).

Identifying and eradicating duplication of programs is another gigantic job and another one that will only just begin with this budget.

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Realigning infrastructure spending to prioritise with what Labor thinks is immediately vital, denying some of the Coalition’s mooted initiatives altogether, and giving the nod to the cost-of-living, will be the features of this budget.

“My view as Finance Minister is that this is a process that should keep going. We’ve identified, obviously, some of the short-term work, and that will be reported in the budget. But this spending audit should keep going,” Senator Gallagher said during one of her many pre-budget promotional interviews.

“We should do it in every budget, just to make sure that we’re constantly looking at ways we’re spending money, and I think the Australian public would expect us to do that.

“It’s not always adding in new spending … but we’re looking at existing expenditure as well and how we can reuse that or realign it with new investments.

“So, yes, it’s an ongoing piece of work in short, and I think the other thing I’d say is … the audit has identified areas where we just need longer to work through as the Finance Department to see whether there are opportunities for, again, reprioritisation or savings.”

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So while Canberra can expect to see the government come good with its $15 million promise to revive the AIS Arena, and public service departments will be landed with various tweaks to programs, there won’t be a massive save on external consultants or anything much else.

Defence spending, aged care and the NDIS will get a good showing.

But let’s hope that if the terms ‘reprofiling’, ‘realigning’ and ‘reprioritising’ are bandied around once the budget is delivered, that they’re not used in the same breath as ‘savings’.

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