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Australia to streamline government, axe public sector jobs

SYDNEY--Dozens of Australian agencies and hundreds of public service jobs face the axe in Tuesday's budget, with Finance Minister Mathias Cormann saying government was too big, wasteful, and needed streamlining.

Cormann refused to confirm specifics of the conservative administration's first budget since taking office in September, which comes as a mining boom fades and growth remains sluggish.

But the minister agreed there was room to scrap or merge some government agencies, a move which could reportedly save AU$470 million (US$440 million).

“Government has become way too big and way too wasteful under the previous government,” Cormann told the Australian Broadcast Corporation (ABC) on Monday.

“When we came into government we were told by Finance (Department) that there were nearly 1,000 different individual government bodies. There was a lot of waste, a lot of duplication.”

The ABC said the bodies to be abolished included the Australian Renewable Energy Agency, the National Water Commission and the Prime Minister's Indigenous Business Policy Advisory Group.

Others will be merged, with Customs becoming part of the Immigration Department under changes announced last week.

Cormann confirmed there would be more job losses in the public service in addition to the 12,000 already targeted by Prime Minister Tony Abbott, and asset sales.

“This is about making sure that government is as efficient and as effective as possible,” he said.

“There will be a further reduction in the size of the public service over the forward estimates, which comes on top of some of the efficiencies which were imposed by the previous government in their dying days before the last election.”

In terms of asset sales, the government has already announced the sale of private health insurer Medibank Private, and Cormann said “asset recycling” would continue.

The Australian Financial Review said the Royal Australian Mint would be privatized along with the registry function of corporate regulator the Australian Securities Investments Commission (ASIC), but Australia Post would be spared.

Bracing for a backlash against the cuts, the government has also flagged a pay freeze for politicians and top public servants.

Cormann said the decisions were not political as much as practical.

“This is not a matter of targeting one area of government more than another,” he said.

“We are very systematic and very methodical in going right across government.”

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