Julie Bishop has rolled her eyes at the mention of Cabinet’s budget razor gang in a speech by Treasurer Joe Hockey as Parliament paused to mark the death of Malcolm Fraser.
Parliament suspended usual business as MPs from both major parties paid tribute to the former prime minister.
“He was the great initiator, and we will be forever thankful … of the Expenditure Review Committee,” Mr Hockey said.
Responding to laughter and murmurs on Government benches, the Treasurer continued, “that committee has endured — much to the chagrin of my colleagues”.
Education Minister Christopher Pyne and several backbenchers were also seen to laugh at the mention.
The Foreign Minister shook her head and held her head in her hands.
Earlier on Monday morning, Ms Bishop said she would be seeking clarity from the Treasurer about a newspaper report that the nation’s foreign aid budget – which she oversees – would face another “small” cut in the May budget.
Foreign aid has taken the biggest hit since the Coalition came to office, having about $11 billion slashed from its budget.
When asked on Radio National this morning whether she would be aware if her budget was going to be cut again, Ms Bishop said, “well you’d hope I would be, wouldn’t you?”
“So I’ll certainly be taking that up with the Treasurer to find out the source of that story.”
— Mark Di Stefano (@MarkDiStef) March 23, 2015
Cormann indicates foreign aid budget safe
Finance Minister Mathias Cormann has indicated instead that the foreign aid budget may be safe, saying: “I think that we’ve done as much as we can.”
“I’ve got to say it came as a surprise to me,” he told Sky News of the report.
“And if it came as a surprise to Julie Bishop [and] it came as a surprise to me, I think that probably gives you as much as you need to know about that particular proposition.”
Mr Cormann praised Ms Bishop for ensuring the foreign aid budget is “well targeted”.
On Monday morning Ms Bishop announced the next stage in Australia’s aid program, innovationXchange, which will draw on private sector knowledge and leadership.
Labor’s foreign affairs spokeswoman, Tanya Plibersek, said Ms Bishop is again “in the dark” about cuts to her portfolio.
“Julie Bishop’s spectacular failure to keep a poker face shows that cuts have been inflicted in her portfolio area without consultation or without her agreement,” she said.
“This comes after more than $11 billion has already been cut from Australia’s aid budget, taking it to the lowest, weakest aid budget that Australia has ever seen.”
With just seven weeks to go until the budget is handed down, the Government is hunting for fresh savings.
But Prime Minister Tony Abbott has already pitched the upcoming budget as “dull” and “routine” and sought to reassure taxpayers the Government will not seek to repair the budget “at the expense of” household budgets.
The expenditure review committee will be meeting regularly in coming weeks to try to nail down cuts and spending priorities.
Mr Abbott chairs the committee, which is made up of the Treasurer, Nationals leader Warren Truss, Social Services Minister Scott Morrison, Finance Minister Mathias Cormann and Assistant Treasurer Josh Frydenberg.