No NFP Rep on Audit Commission – ACOSS
Wednesday, 19th February 2014 at 2:14 pm
Welfare peak body, ACOSS has criticised the Federal Government’s Commission of Audit for not appointing a representative of the community sector to be part of the inquiry.
ACOSS CEO Dr Cassandra Goldie made the criticism during her appearance before the Senate Inquiry into the Commission of Audit in Canberra.
“While we support the Commission of Audit in principle, we are concerned about the profile of the members of the Commission of Audit. We believe there should have been somebody from the community sector on the Commission,” Goldie said in her opening statement.
“We are concerned about the process, which it appears will be essentially a behind-closed-doors process leading into a budget decision,” she said.
“Community services and the Not for Profit sector make up five per cent of GDP and eight per cent of employment in Australia. While it is very difficult for us to get an accurate picture, we know that a significant number of community organisations are under significant stress because of a lack of funding certainty at this time.
“We are used to being told, 'Look, you're going to have to wait until the May Budget to know whether you've got ongoing funding.' There has been some work to try to get a more extended approach to funding arrangements, but we know that this is a very particular environment. We have been told in many cases, 'You have to wait. We have a Commission of Audit. We have a federal budget.'
“Funding is seriously up for question. We know that many of our members—for example, under the national partnership on homelessness we have 180 services, 80,000 clients and over 3,000 staff who do not know what will happen from July 1.
“We urge this committee to make a clear recommendation that we must not make the same mistake that was made during the changes to the single-payment parents, when overnight in a budget decision we were told that over 80,000 single parents would have their payments cut by up to $150 per week.
“We have seen the savage social and economic implications of that, because there was no process for us to be able to engage properly with the Government over getting good policy to support single parents into paid work.
“We are particularly concerned about some of the early signs of where the Government may be looking to make cuts. We are concerned about the decisions over cuts to, for example, legal aid services and the services that have been going to multicultural communities.
“These are small amounts, but we hope that they do not give an indication of where the Commission of Audit, and potentially the Government, may go in the future in looking to put the budget on a much more sustainable footing,” Goldie said.
ALP Senator Kate Lundy responded to Goldie saying the committee would love to take her up on an offer to provide that additional information about the impact of Audit decisions on NFP membership.
The Abbott Government set up the Commission of Audit soon after coming to office. It is charged with finding savings by eliminating waste and duplication of functions, and the consolidation of Commonwealth agencies.
In its submission to the Commission of Audit, ACOSS also cautioned the Federal Government against relying on a ‘quick fix’ of spending cuts to restore the Budget.
Goldie told the hearing that the deficit is mainly due to falling revenues and proposed that this be restored to pre-GFC levels to raise an additional $23 billion a year.
Goldie told the Committee that the Commission of Audit was an important opportunity to review Commonwealth expenditure with a view to long-term structural reform to put the budget on a sustainable footing.
However, she argued that the Commission will be a missed opportunity if tax expenditures are off the table and if the process is done behind closed doors, with a view to short term savings.
Goldie wants to see the Commission of Audit focus on identifying current waste in the Federal Budget in the form of generous tax breaks and poorly targeted programs, and avoid recommending cuts to funding that is already well-targeted to low income and vulnerable communities.