The West

Budget razor gang in  Perth
Cuts coming: Tony Abbott. Picture: ADF

Today's visit by Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak to RAAF Base Pearce forced Tony Abbott to relocate his Budget razor gang to Perth yesterday.

Dozens of Canberra bureaucrats, including several departmental secretaries, were dispatched west at short notice to help the expenditure review committee prepare next month's Budget.

The Prime Minister had planned to be in Canberra yesterday and today to oversee the committee's deliberations but Mr Najib's decision to visit the Pearce base, the focal point of the international search for missing Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 cancelled those plans.

Mr Abbott chaired the 10-hour ERC meeting yesterday, with ministers beginning the process of poring over the 900-page Commission of Audit report.

It is understood that for some ministers, yesterday was the first time they had seen the commission's full list of recommendations.

The report is expected to result in a tightening of welfare, introduction of means-tested Medicare co-payments and a slower growth or pause in a raft of Commonwealth outlays.

"In a very difficult fiscal environment everyone is going to have to take a little bit of stringency," Mr Abbott told radio 6IX.

He said the Government was conscious of the important work done in areas such as homelessness and mental health.

"There's a sense in which you can never do enough in these areas bec-ause these are very difficult problems to deal with," Mr Abbott said.

"We have to as a decent and compassionate society constantly make a bigger effort, but there's a sense in which nothing will ever be enough."

Shadow treasurer Chris Bowen said it was an "insult" to West Australians for the Government to hold the ERC meeting in Perth but withhold the Commission of Audit until after Saturday's Senate election.

Mr Bowen accused Mr Abbott of lacking confidence in Treasurer Joe Hockey by deciding to chair the ERC meeting.

But the Government rejected Mr Bowen's claim that it was "unprecedented" for a PM to chair the Budget razor gang, saying Kevin Rudd chaired the committee in 2008, as had Bob Hawke for much of his time as prime minister.

The West Australian

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