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Public service must chase savings to pay for election promises

Politics

The Morrison government insists essential services won’t be cut to pay for the coalition’s $2.3 billion in election commitments.

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But the public service will be required to make $1 billion in savings to help offset the costs.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison argues the government tasks public servants to get jobs done and, while he respects their work, he also expects results.

“That means they will make those sensible decisions about the best way to achieve that,” he told reporters in Darwin on Tuesday.

The coalition’s costings – released on Tuesday – show an improvement to the federal budget bottom line of about $1 billion over four years compared to the March budget.

That will be achieved by lifting the efficiency dividend applied to government departments and agencies by 0.5 percentage points to two per cent.

Finance Minister Simon Birmingham promises essential services will not be cut to make the savings.

How the annual reduction in costs is applied would be left to bureaucrats.

“The opportunities for departments … exist in relation to management of their accommodation, technology, consultancies and contractors, their staffing arrangements,” Birmingham told reporters in Melbourne.

“These in no way impact the delivery of services and support to Australians. Essential services remain guaranteed under the coalition.”

Treasurer Josh Frydenberg took aim at the opposition for not releasing its policy costings, calling on leader Anthony Albanese to “fess up”.

But Labor, which is expected to release its policy costings by Thursday, has rejected the government’s criticism of the delay.

Australians would know the details before election day, campaign spokeswoman Penny Wong said.

“We’re doing what oppositions, including Mr Morrison’s party, have done for many elections, so there’s nothing unusual about this,” she told ABC TV.

Frydenberg also defended the coalition’s housing policy which would allow first home buyers to access some of their superannuation for a deposit.

He denied property prices would increase under the policy, despite Superannuation Minister Jane Hume predicting a temporary bump.

“I can say hand on heart that we don’t expect this to have a material impact on house prices,” Frydenberg told ABC Radio on Tuesday.

Meanwhile, Labor will announce a $1.5 billion medical manufacturing fund on Tuesday.

The fund will be part of a $15 billion National Reconstruction Fund to shore up medical supply chains, including vaccines.

Albanese also plans to commission the development of a medical manufacturing industry plan, to determine how local businesses can secure government contracts, if Labor wins government on May 21.

“Serious countries should make things. Serious countries should be led by builders, not bulldozers, which is how I would lead a future Labor government,” he said.

As Frydenberg and other moderate Liberal MPs face a serious challenge from the so-called teal independents, the prime minister has suggested more affluent inner-city voters had different priorities to those in the outer suburbs and regions where the cost of living was a more important issue.

“What is elevated in my electorate is the issue of climate change in a way that it’s not necessarily elevated in some other electorates,” Frydenberg said.

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