A Senate inquiry hearing could provide the first glimpse of where the federal government's budget axe may fall, as ministers warned of further political pain.
Former Business Council chief Tony Shepherd, the chairman of the government's national commission of audit, will front an inquiry in Canberra on Wednesday to talk about his work before handing down an interim report by the end of the month.
The appearance comes as the first major public opinion poll of the year, the Morgan Poll, puts Labor on 52.5 per cent of the two-party vote to the coalition's 47.5 per cent.
The national poll, taken over the past two weekends, was in line with trends in three other polls taken before Christmas.
The commission of audit - similar to that undertaken by the Howard government in 1996 - was set up to find savings across all departments and agencies as well as the privatisation of public assets and passing on more responsibilities to the states.
Acting Prime Minister Warren Truss said he expected some of the government's budget decisions, informed by the audit report, to be unpopular.
"We have to get rid of the mismanagement and the waste that characterised our predecessor," Mr Truss said.
"That means we have to make some unpopular decisions - we know that and we naturally expect there will be some repercussions and flagging in public sentiment and popularity as a result of that."
Mr Truss said the government had a tough job to do in 2014 and higher public spending was unlikely.
"Clearly we have to make decisions that make a comprehensive difference to our economy, to our income and to our expenditure as a nation."
Coalition frontbencher Christopher Pyne said he doubted whether Mr Shepherd would publicly reveal the findings of his first report.
"I would be shocked. I assume he will be answering questions about the process," Mr Pyne said.
"That is a matter for Mr Shepherd and the Senate committee."
Committee chairman, Greens senator Richard Di Natale, said the inquiry would not only look at the integrity of the process but also some of the possible outcomes of the audit.
"This national commission of audit ... will make some recommendations that are very wide and far reaching and will have a huge impact on the life of ordinary people," he said.
"So we need to make sure those recommendations get the full scrutiny that they deserve and the work of the commission is conducted openly."
One of the ministers involved in budget talks, Social Services Minister Kevin Andrews, said the public would accept over time that action was needed to address the cost of Australia's ageing population and growing debt.
"This is about how we have the most efficient and effective form of government," Mr Andrews.
He said there were "no particular plans" to cut welfare spending, but acknowledged he was considering changes to his department.