Federal Budget 2018: top-ups for the central agencies, few 'efficiencies' left to find

By Stephen Easton

May 8, 2018

Budget cover 2018

Like last year’s federal budget, the plan for 2018-19 involves re-purposing a range of “efficiencies” found in some parts of the public sector, investing in transformation in others, and a few top-up payments to help cash-strapped agencies perform their core functions.

A measure called “Enhancing Treasury’s Ongoing Capability to Support Government” appears in the expenses once again, for example. This year the department gets a boost of $38 million over two years to help it “support the Government on issues including taxation policy and revenue forecasting, macroeconomic modelling and foreign investment issues”.

Building on last year’s “supplementation” to the Prime Minister’s department is another $23.3 million over two years “to support PM&C in providing policy support to the Government’s domestic and international policy agendas, including national security, trade and infrastructure”.

The Department of Finance doesn’t miss out. It gets an extra $10m top-up spread over two years, in addition to $1.3m already provided, to “strengthen [its] capacity to respond to critical priorities and drive productivity improvements across the Australian Public Service”.

“This includes modernising Commonwealth cash management by utilising the New Payments Platform for fast payments which is being rolled out across the banking system in Australia,” according to the budget papers.

Overseas spying agency the Australian Secret Intelligence Service, and three domestic security outfits — ASIO, the Federal Police and the Criminal Intelligence Commission – all get “additional resourcing” this year as well. The AFP gets $12.6m over four years and ASIO is in line for an extra $24.4m this financial year, while the quantity of the boost to ASIS is a secret.

Human Services is going to spend $50m from its existing budget on an effort to reduce Centrelink call waiting times — although the agency staffing paper shows its workforce will also have the biggest reduction by far — and the Australian Bureau os Statistics has already received $4.2m to improve its ability to produce stats “that better reflect economic priorities and changes in the economy”, which continues over two years.

Few efficiencies left

There were slim pickings this year in terms of budget “efficiencies” and other savings that could be returned to the government and used elsewhere.

A reasonable $62.9m in savings will come from amalgamating the Endeavour Mobility Grants and Endeavour Scholarships and Fellows programs, creating the new Endeavour Leadership Program, which begins in 2019 and is funded $119m over four years. Also in the Education portfolio, $21.2m will be saved over the forward estimates from closing down the Industry Workforce Training Program’s competitive funding stream.

The Attorney-General’s Department will return about $20.3m to the budget over five years through cutting costs and “improved targeting” of spending. Two “industry programs” run by the Department of Industry, Innovation and Science will yield $30m worth of uncommitted funding ($10m of which was already accounted for).

In Agriculture and Water Resources, $15 million left unspent from three programs will be returned to the coffers over the next five years, and a confidential amount of savings will come from a move to cost recovery in export certification that is currently being discussed with the industry stakeholders.

A modest $6.6m worth of efficiencies are expected to be achieved over the next five years by the Australian Trade and Investment Commission, through departmental savings and a cut to its Australian Tropical Medicine Commercialisation grants program. And another $6m of uncommitted funds from the Child Care Early Learning Projects Program also goes back to the bottom line over the next three years.

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