Five-member Audit Commission to be led by businessman

Bill Shorten has led his first shadow ministry meeting. AAP/Lukas Coch

An eminent business figure will head the government’s five-member Commission of Audit, announced tomorrow, which will comb through government programs for savings and efficiencies.

Cabinet will tick off on the members, that will include two former federal senior public servants and also expertise on state financing.

It will be given three months to produce an interim report. Findings from this first overhaul will feed into the preparation of Treasurer Joe Hockey’s first budget.

The Commission’s final report, expected to take about six months, will deal with more thorough-going reforms including federal-state relationships.

The announcement comes as Deloitte Access Economics has warned that getting back to a sustainable surplus will be a herculean task, with revenues facing extended underperformance and social policy spending increasing. The government has not committed to a specific date for returning to surplus.

At a meeting of Labor’s executive today Opposition leader Bill Shorten sought to close party ranks. He said it was important to draw a line under the divisions of the past.

Shorten said both former Labor PMs, Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard, should be treated with respect by caucus members. Shorten is anxious to head off further divisive argument about the former Labor government. Last week former minister Nicola Roxon, now out of parliament, delivered a massive attack on the Rudd leadership style.

Shadow ministers had an initial discussion about the climate change debate when parliament meets and considers the repeal of the carbon tax, with the meeting reaffirming “Labor’s long standing commitment to reducing carbon pollution”. The tactics to be adopted will be discussed further before parliament opens.

While most of the party wants to take a hard line against the government’s legislation some caucus members have suggested the Opposition should cut its losses and not stand in the way of repeal.

Shorten, who in his leadership campaign spoke of Labor being the “big ideas” party, said policy development was an important opportunity for collaboration and co-operation.

Labor had its best chance of success when it focused on Australia’s future and had the courage to engage with new ideas, he said. He wanted to see an emphasis on dialogue, on being open and listening.

Initial policy priorities centred on the regions, small business and science and innovation. Shadow ministers discussed setting up specific processes to help drive policy development in these areas.

They agreed Labor’s previous policies in government would be gradually reviewed in consultation with caucus members and community stakeholders but Shorten stressed the importance of retaining key policies such as “better schools” and disability reform.

Shadow ministers also agreed to conduct a stocktake of all Coalition policiers to ensure the government was held to account. Shadow ministers would review next year’s budget decisions to make sure the government does not quietly axe funding for important programs.