Why work on the Federal Budget?

Have you ever thought about what it takes to get a government decision on how it should spend public money?  Or how a government sets its goals and priorities in an environment of competing demands? Much of what any government does is about trade-offs and resource allocation, and the annual Budget is where the Federal Government brings it all together.

We help Ministers make decisions by making sure that proposals are well understood (particularly in terms of their connections with other policies and programs) and that the costs, as well as the benefits are properly laid out.

We also assist Ministers by commenting on the efficiency and effectiveness of program delivery, both in the past and in terms of what is proposed for the future.

Examples of typical issues we help Ministers deal with, in particular policy areas, are as follows:



  • How can the Federal Government best work with the States and Territories to improve high school retention and school outcomes?
  • What is the best funding model for universities and TAFE, focussing on the needs of students and the capacities and strengths of the different institutions?
  • What is the optimal role for Government in early childhood education, and how effective are our current efforts?
  • What assistance should be provided to tertiary students, keeping in mind the split of public and private benefits from post-school education?

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Climate Change and Environment

  • What are the resource implications for government of the various means proposed for dealing with climate change? In this new field of activity, what can we say about the efficiency and effectiveness of the alternatives?
  • What are the best and most practical ways of encouraging economical and responsible use of scarce natural resources such as water? What is the balance of effectiveness and costs between market and regulatory mechanisms?

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  • What is the appropriate balance between prevention and care?
  • How can the Government balance the rising demand for health services and an ageing population with the goal of fair access to health services for all Australians?
  • How will governments and individuals meet the rising costs of technology? How are any benefits distributed across the population?
  • How can the different parts of the health system be reformed and integrated to deliver better health outcomes?
  • How can reforms to Commonwealth/State roles and responsibilities ensure better health service delivery?

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  • Given complex technology and very long lead times, how can Ministers best decide on the competing equipment needs of the Australian Defence Force? What value can we add in assuring the quality of cost estimates for such long life projects, and their subsequent running costs?
  • In the context of the current labour market and lifestyle expectations, what should the Government be doing to recruit and retain the right people for the ADF? What are the costs and likely outcomes of the alternatives available?

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Overseas Aid

  • Given Australia’s much expanded overseas aid commitment, what criteria should individual aid proposals be assessed against? Ex post, how effective have individual aid projects been?
  • What are the right accountability arrangements when we provide assistance to developing countries directly or through multilateral bodies or through non-government organisations?
  • How should Ministers choose the balance between delivery through multilateral and bilateral channels, and how should they determine the regional distribution of our aid?

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  • What is the appropriate role for the Federal Government in infrastructure provision? What set of arrangements best combines the contributions of state and territory and federal governments, and the private sector?
  • How are the competing infrastructure priorities that are presented to the Federal Government best assessed?
  • What is the role of public private partnerships, user charging and cost recovery in assisting the provision of infrastructure?

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Law and Order, Community Safety, National Security and Border Protection

  • How should the roles of federal law and justice agencies be linked with those of state and territory counterparts?
  • What is the appropriate resourcing system for the courts and tribunals? To what extent can their support systems be further combined or coordinated without compromising independence? Can changes to court charges improve resourcing or lead to efficiencies?
  • How should governments divide responsibility for funding and delivering community crime prevention and disaster preparedness and relief? What is the balance between private and public roles in these areas?
  • To what extent should the cost to taxpayers of protecting Australia’s borders be recovered from travellers and those involved in overseas trade? Can new technology or better practices improve efficiency, and if so, will that efficiency result in budget savings or in better service?
  • What are the roles and funding responsibilities of the private sector and governments in protecting our critical infrastructure?

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Foreign Affairs

  • Given our foreign policy and trade goals, how can our diplomatic and trade efforts overseas be best directed and resourced?
  • How many public resources should be directed towards dealing with the interests and safety of Australians travelling and living overseas? What is the role of private insurance and when is cost recovery appropriate?

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Benefits and Pensions

  • How can our benefits and pensions system be optimised to help people in particular circumstances and still maintain incentives for working age people to participate in the workforce?

  • Can the income support system be further simplified without losing the desired level of targeting?

  • What income and assets test are appropriate and to what extent should they vary among programs?

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The Arts and Culture and Broadcasting

  • For our national collections, how should our galleries and museums be funded for preserving and maintaining works? What acquisitions policy should be supported?
  • What resources should be applied to touring our national collections? What is the role of cost recovery?
  • How should our national broadcasters be resourced and how should their performance be gauged? What opportunities exist from a move to a more digital world for our national broadcasters and how are these best harnessed?

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Science and Innovation

  • What principles apply to government funding of innovation? What distinction should be made between basic and applied research efforts? If funded research has commercial benefits, in what circumstances can the taxpayer get a return?
  • To what extent should innovation support be provided through generally available schemes and to what extent should it be directed to particular technologies or identified national problems or to individual institutions or firms? What is the role of government in facilitating sector-wide research programs?
  • How should the synergies between education and research be recognised in funding arrangements?

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Industry and Trade

  • What is the role of government in promoting efficiency (or removing barriers) and sustainable development in areas such as agriculture, resources, energy, aviation and manufacturing industries, and in distribution, retail, tourism and other service industries? How can we measure the effectiveness of government assistance or facilitation programs? What specific measures should have priority?
  • To what extent and in what forms is export assistance warranted? How effective is the export assistance being provided?

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Skills and Employment

  •  What are the roles of government and industry and individuals in skills creation? How successful can predictions of future skills needs be? What principles apply to government funding?
  • What is the role and costs of permanent and temporary migration in dealing with skills shortages?
  • How should regional skills and employment shortages be handled?
  • What income support and employment subsidy arrangements best assist people to return to the workforce?

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 Indigenous People

  • What is the combination and sequence of actions and services that will close the gap in life expectancy, educational achievement and employment for Indigenous Australians?
  • Given the unique circumstances of Indigenous people, what is the balance between delivering services and assistance through mainstream and specialised programs?
  • How can government and communities best work to deliver lasting benefits and improvements?

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Information and Communications Technology in Government

  •  How does government ensure the optimal use of ICT in its own operations? How can the risks and costs of major ICT projects be best assessed and monitored?
  • What emphasis should be placed on using ICT to improve service provision rather than to reduce costs?
  • Should government ICT be used to demonstrate new technologies?

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Economic Regulation and Government Administration

  • What resources do our regulators need to achieve their mandate? In what circumstances is more self regulation an option? Are there more cost effective ways of operating? What is the role of cost recovery?
  • What measures can be applied across government to improve efficiency and effectiveness of administration and service provision? Is the balance right between devolution of responsibility and the performance of functions and services centrally? Are there opportunities to improve efficiency and delivery further by combining functions and agencies?

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Coordinating the Budget and Monitoring Implementation

  • How can the wider economic and social context be best integrated into the formulation of the Budget?
  • How do recent economic developments and changes in the economic outlook impact on government spending programs and the overall Budget?
  • What is the best way for bringing together the multiple decisions needed for the Budget into a process which allows Ministers to make informed choices and trade-offs?
  • How can the Budget and its choices be communicated in an understandable way to the Parliament, the general public and other stakeholders?
  • What central monitoring and reporting on the implementation of the Budget is needed?

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Contact for information on this page: Jennifer Rivers, (02) 6215 2169

Last updated: 11 January 2018