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Tuesday, 17 February 1987
Page: 64


Senator CHANEY —Does the Leader of the Government in the Senate agree that Australia's inflation rate is double the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development average; that interest rates in Australia are far higher than those of our trading partners-indeed, in many cases twice as high or more; that Australians are suffering higher average and marginal tax rates than when the Hawke Government came to office; that Australia's gross foreign debt now amounts to about $100 billion, or more than $6,600 per head for every man, woman and child in this country; and that the Government's wages policy was based on the accord, which has now collapsed? Does the Minister further agree that yesterday's balance of payments figures, allied with the other matters I have mentioned, show that the Australian economy remains in a state of crisis and that many individual Australians are also in a state of crisis? I ask the Minister: What action does the Government propose to remove these enormous burdens on individuals and industry? In particular, before the end of the parliamentary session will the Government bring down a mini-Budget containing major cuts in Government spending in an attempt to bring down the high interest rates which are throttling productive and job-creating investment in this country?


Senator BUTTON —Senator Chaney asked me five initial questions. The answer to the first question is yes; to the second question, yes; to the third question, I am not sure; to the fourth question, yes; and to the fifth question, no. I was then asked whether I regard the Australian economy as being in a state of crisis. My answer to that question is no. I think the Australian economy is going through an extremely difficult period, and to characterise it with the word `crisis', of course, gives an air of drama to a situation which has been long in the making and which will be some time in the correcting. Of course, the Opposition has the word `crisis' in its mind at the present time. It naturally comes to mind when the word `Opposition' is mentioned, because if ever there was an opposition in crisis in this country it is the present Opposition. So I understand Senator Chaney's using the word `crisis'. Let me say that in terms of economic issues there is no crisis. There are some extremely difficult situations which this Government has to address and which any government worth its salt would have to address in the present circumstances.

I was further asked what will be done about alleviating the burden on individuals and industry. That sounds to me like a bit of `incentivation' in reverse. It is all very well to talk about burdens on individuals and industries and to suggest very glib ways in which those burdens might be alleviated. Let me say first of all that I do not concede the burdens on individuals to the extent that Senator Chaney implied in his question. Certainly I do not concede the burdens on industry to the extent that Senator Chaney implied in his question. If one is not specific about any of these things, of course, it is easy to make a most general implication.

I was then asked whether in order to alleviate these problems the Government will bring down a mini-Budget in May. That is a question which the Government will address and make an announcement about at the appropriate time. But in terms of alleviating burdens on individuals and so on, a mini-Budget would not be a solution in any dramatic way to the economic problems which this country currently faces.

I think one needs to get some of these issues in a slightly better perspective than that in which the Opposition clearly has them. Senator Chaney raised the matter of yesterday's current account figures. By way of example, I quote from this morning's Sydney Morning Herald editorial. In respect of those figures it said:

The lesson for the market is, don't put too much faith on the highly volatile monthly trade figures . . . The lesson for the Government is that the correction of the current account deficit is running according to its long, hard schedule . . . But the process of adjustment is slow-and will involve considerable investment which itself will add to the import bill.

The Sydney Morning Herald did not take any steps to single out what the lesson for the Opposition might be, presumably on the basis that it thought the Opposition, in its approach to these issues-which are very serious ones-was irrelevant.


Senator CHANEY —I ask a supplementary question. The final part of the question, which the Minister did touch on, asked whether the Government would bring down a mini-Budget. The Minister said that the Government will address that matter. Is the Minister saying that to this point the Government has not given any consideration to the need for a mini-Budget during this parliamentary session?


Senator BUTTON —No, I am not saying that. I am saying that the Government will make a decision about that matter and announce it at the appropriate time.