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Commission of Audit boss creating new blueprint of tax, energy and federal reform for Turnbull

Tuesday, 05 September 2017

Commission of Audit boss creating new blueprint of tax, energy and federal reform for Turnbull
Tony Shepherd is working on a "blueprint for good government" with the Liberal-leaning Menzies Research Institute. Photo: Brook Mitchell | Source: SMH

Original article by James Massola in The Sydney Morning Herald:

The architect of Tony Abbott's controversial Commission of Audit has teamed up with a Liberal-leaning think tank to create a "blueprint for good government" for Malcolm Turnbull ahead of the next election.

But more than three years after his 2014 audit, which sank like a stone politically and helped to take the 2014 budget with it, Tony Shepherd is promising practical solutions that will set out the economic challenges facing Australia and outline policy solutions.

Mr Shepherd and the Menzies Research Centre will release five reform papers by the end of the first quarter of 2018, examining key challenges facing the economy; energy and infrastructure; pressures on state and federal budgets; innovation; and trade and investment.

The former Business Council president told Fairfax Media that Australia's tax settings - for people, businesses and the GST - will all be examined as part of the sweeping review.

Housing policy, industrial relations, immigration and population levels and health policy will also be examined.

Mr Shepherd stressed the reform options proposed would be reports to government, and that while "everything is on the table, there are no no-go zones" and it would "up to the government to do it or not".

Senior figures in the Turnbull government are aware the work on policy options is under way and said that reforms proposed by the Shepherd review would help inform tax changes at the next budget and ahead of the next election. 

One source said it was likely the government will take another look at delivering personal income tax cuts but any proposal to take another look at raising the GST was unlikely to find favour. 

Promising to cut personal income taxes would "allow us to go into the campaign saying you will be better off compared to Labor", the source said.

In his traditional post-budget speech to the National Press Club in May, Treasurer Scott Morrison hinted personal income tax relief, to correct for bracket creep, was on the government's agenda ahead of the next election.

Mr Shepherd said that "we hope this will be a believable blueprint for good government and that the majority of the community, even if not wildly enthusiastic, will accept its relevance and common sense".

"It won't be populist, but we will take community concerns into account."

He added that the "the biggest failing with the Commission of Audit was not to take it to the community and workshop it for six months before the [2014] budget was framed, to have those conversations, get the negatives out, deal with community concerns".

The 2014 Commission of Audit recommended federal spending be slashed in 15 key areas, including cuts to family and pension payments, called for a rise in the cost of university degrees and called for a series of government agencies be shut and major assets such as the Snowy Hydro scheme be sold off.

The secretary of the review, Spiro Premetis, a former Treasury official, said the genesis of the project was that there had been a lack of progress in economic reform in Australia for a decade.

"Wherever you go in Australia, people feel they aren't getting ahead. People are concerned about energy prices, cost of living, childcare, whether their kids can buy property," he said.

To that end, "yes, it is looking at company tax and the GST. It will canvas traditional options [for tax reform] that have already been canvassed, and a few more things that may have been raised in the Commission of Audit".

Work began on the reform options months ago and the Research Centre released a "Statement of National Challenges" back in March, which set out the problems the coming five papers will address.

Labor will likely seize on the policy proposals, as they are released, to revive the spectre of a GST rise - for example - being placed back on the table by the Turnbull government.


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