The West

The university education debt of millions of Australians could be sold off under a proposal to be examined by Prime Minister Tony Abbott's inquiry into the state of the nation's finances.

In a move that could boost the Budget bottom line, up to $23 billion of outstanding Higher Education Contribution Scheme debt would be effectively privatised under a plan that has already won support in some financial circles.

The Government's Commission of Audit, which is just days away from being announced by Treasurer Joe Hockey, is also likely to consider a British-style sale of Australia Post. The Treasurer promised the commission, modelled on a similar audit conducted by the Howard government in 1996, would look at what governments can do for people that they can't do "and no more".

In an interview in the US yesterday, Mr Hockey said the debt ceiling crisis facing America was clear evidence that governments had to deal with their fiscal pressures as quickly as possible.

"The world must live within its means and you cannot wait until five minutes to midnight to deal with fiscal pressures, you cannot wait until five minutes to midnight to deal with the massive debt burden left by previous generations," he said.

In the lead-up to the election, Mr Abbott claimed the country faced a "Budget emergency" but the coalition's own costings only improved the overall Budget by $6 billion over four years.

It is banking on the Commission of Audit to come up with a range of initiatives that will cut overall government spending over the long term.

One proposal that has backing in the financial sector is to convert the $22.6 billion in HECS debt held by 1.6 million Australians into a financial product. In a process called securitisation, the responsibility for HECS debts would be bought by the private sector and then sold to investors.

It is understood that Mr Hockey was made aware of the possibility of turning Commonwealth HECS debt into a finance product while shadow treasurer. The commission is also expected to look at the sale of Australia Post.

The British Government overnight started listing Royal Mail on the London Stock Exchange in a move that it hopes will improve the British Budget by £2 billion.

The West Australian

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