Election 2022: Expenditure considerations for the public service

By Tom Ravlic

April 14, 2022

Department of Treasury, Canberra
Treasury’s analysis warns increases in oil prices are resulting in higher petrol costs. (AAP Image/Lukas Coch)

COMMENT

Public servants, like everyone, will be watching the current expenditure promises made across the campaign and be wondering what will actually happen when the flag falls on the election.

The federal government is a known quantity and there will be promises made during the campaign that will have been costed, but not announced in the federal budget. There might be a little hint during the campaign when the government says it has invested in a particular proposal.

Consider the fact that on the third full day of the campaign it was the retiring health minister, Greg Hunt, who announced a funding boost for Australian research into stroke prevention.

This is tagged as a $1.8 million “investment” by the federal government as opposed to a pledge or a promise. It should be expected that there will be more “investments” to be announced as the campaign progresses.

These are announcements that will be business as usual if the Coalition is re-elected.

What happens if Anthony Albanese and his team take over the treasury benches? Among the first things that will happen is that the opposition will need to assess the landscape that it inherits.

That will take the form of a briefing prepared by the public service on the state of play across key government portfolios of which health is only one.

Each of these promises on health matters that will have been costed by the Parliamentary Budget Office for the opposition will then need to be considered in light of new and better particulars.

What are the commitments, if any, made by a Morrison government that could be cut from the mix for the Labor Party to be able to implement its own? What judgements will the opposition apply in those circumstances to change policy? How great a problem will any commitments that are baked in for a period of time pose for a newly elected team?

The decisions that an incoming government will need to make will be dependent on the quality and frankness of information and analysis that it receives from the public service.

A further question that may be prompted by a new government looking at the organisation of departments is whether the way the existing structures work suits what an incoming government wants.

This is another matter that public sector leaders will no doubt be reflecting on as the election numbers roll in during the evening of March 21.

It may not be simply a question of reorganising the structure of departments that an incoming administration contemplates.

There may be heads that a new administration decides need to roll in order to get its full agenda implemented properly.


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