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Thursday, 14 May 1998
Page: 3385


Mr SLIPPER —My question today is addressed to the Treasurer. Treasurer, can you advise the House how the coalition's third outstanding budget has been received? What are the reasons for this very positive reception?


Mr COSTELLO (Treasurer) —I thank the honourable member for Fisher for his question. Can I say, on behalf of the government, that the government faced a choice when it was putting this budget together of making sure that we met the social and economic priorities of Australia while we were, at the same time, strengthening our economy against the turbulence in the Asian region and while we were dealing with the failures of the Keating-Beazley Labor years.


Mr Beazley —I apologise for 4½ per cent growth.


Mr COSTELLO —It would have been easier for Australia if the Keating-Beazley Labor government had not racked up $80,000 million of debt in its last five years in government. The $80,000 million debt did not just disappear when we were elected—we wish that it had. It meant that this government had to engage in sustained good economic policy, first to get the budget back into the black—to get it back on track—and then to go forward and start reducing the $80,000 million from the Keating-Beazley Labor government.

In relation to the budget, there has been a very strong reception to it. The Business Council of Australia said:

This is a budget that is absolutely right for the times.

The Australian Retailers Association welcomed it, saying:

The economy is on course for moderate but reasonable growth.

I think on this side of the House one of the things that we were most proud to be able to do in the budget was to look after the self-funded retirees in a way that they had never been looked after before. Maureen Kingston, from the Association of Independent Retirees said this:

The Association of Independent Retirees is delighted that the government has listened to the voice of the independent retirees.

We were delighted to listen to it and to be able to deliver to another 220,000 Australian retirees the opportunity to take a health care card so that they can buy their pharmaceuticals at $3.20 and, after 52 pharmaceuticals, have them free. The Master Builders Association, Australia's leading building and construction industry association, has also welcomed the budget.

In addition to all of those groups, the state Chamber of Commerce in New South Wales, after being addressed by the Minister for Finance and Administration the morning after the budget, actually did a survey of reactions to the budget, giving it a score of eight out of 10 after the address of the minister, who did an exceptionally good job at that meeting. They said this:

. . . 75.8 per cent of respondents felt that the Howard government would deliver its forecast surplus and 75.4 per cent felt that the business community was ahead after three Costello budgets.

Good economic policy does not come by chance. It is not a matter of luck, as the Leader of the Opposition seems to think it is; it is a matter of hard, disciplined work. It is a matter of overcoming the sabotage of the previous administration and all of the efforts that Labor undertook to defeat good policy. Australia is lucky that Labor did not defeat good policy. Australia is lucky that it is back in the black and back on track.