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Wednesday, 29 May 1996
Page: 1310

Senator McGAURAN(3.31 p.m.) —I would have thought the previous speaker, Senator Barney Cooney, would have learnt the lessons from the last election, particularly coming from the state of Victoria. We can tell from listening to speakers from the other side of the chamber that they have not learnt the lessons; they just want to run up the debt. Not one of them mentioned balancing the budget or bringing the budget into surplus. For heaven's sake, you either do not know, or you do not acknowledge, exactly why you lost the last election and why we were put in government—to bring responsible and disciplined government to Canberra.

Even the disgraced Victorian Labor Party opposition under Mr Brumby have admitted their error and have written into their platform the need for a balanced budget. Even they have had to admit before the Victorian people—for whatever good it did them—that they need to put into their platform a balanced budget. Those on that side of the House have stuck to their old ways. They continually want to run up debt.

The truth is that the government does have a strategy. Regardless of the hostility and obstruction of those on the other side of the Senate, we are going to stick to that. Whatever can be gleaned from today's national account figures—as my colleague Senator Gibson said, there really is only one quarter to be focused on and encouraged by—has to be built on and secured by this government. The strategy is for disciplined government expenditure and fiscal responsibility.

Senator Sherry —What do the farmers think of that?

Senator McGAURAN —What will follow from that, Senator Sherry, is what your government was never able to achieve on the boom and bust roller-coaster you put the Australian people on. What will follow is downward pressure on interest rates. To this day, the Australian economy is facing the second highest real prime interest rates in the world—second highest to Italy, and that is nothing to be proud of. Australia's real prime interest rates are 6.8 per cent, compared with other OECD countries such as Britain with 4.6 per cent and the US with 5.35 per cent.

Our interest rates are putting pressures on Australian households. That was conceded by the Reserve Bank only a day or two ago, but there is now tremendous pressure on Australian households and their mortgage repay ments. The front page of Monday's Australian Financial Review, in an article by Andrew Cornell, states:

Increasing household debt and growing signs of repayment problems for many Australians are triggering concern in the banks and the Reserve Bank of Australia.

Personal credit has been growing steadily on a monthly basis since July 1994, and the latest RBA figures showed it standing at $47.1 billion in March—a rise of more than 10 per cent in a year.

So our strategy is to bring the budget into surplus so as to put downward pressure on interest rates. That is a relief for all Australians who have a mortgage and it will bring confidence to Australian business. There is no doubt that the $8 billion cuts are going to be hard. Ministers do have a task ahead of them.

Senator Sherry —When are you going to stand up for the country; when are you going to stand up for the farmers?

Senator McGAURAN —Read the front page of the Australian , Senator Sherry—that will answer that question. It is worth noting that this government by good administration has already tightened its belt in many different areas, even before we get to the hard cuts—and there will be hard cuts. Its own ministers have taken a $10,000 cut in their pay. They have reduced staff numbers by one. They have less luxury than your ministers ever had. We have reduced the number of consultancies from the 42 hanger-onners that you had to one hanger-onner?

Opposition Senators — Ha, ha!

Senator McGAURAN —A bit of humour in this place does not hurt, from time to time. You had 42 hanger-onners and we have reduced the number to one.

Senator Sherry —I take a point of order, Mr Acting Deputy President. When is Senator McGauran going to stop defending the banks and the Liberal Party and start defending farmers?

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Colston) —That is not a point of order.

Senator Kemp —I take a point of order. We have listened with great interest to my colleague. I think his has been a very power ful and important contribution to this debate but it is exceedingly difficult to hear him because of the amount of abuse coming from the other side of the chamber. I wonder, Mr Acting Deputy President, whether you might care to take some action to get some order back into this place?

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT —I will take your comments under consideration.

Senator McGAURAN —In the short time I have I just want to make the point about the hard cuts, which no-one wants to make. When we came into government we found rorts galore.

Senator Kernot —Mr Acting Deputy President, I want to take note of a different answer. How much more time is there, please?

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Colston) —None, virtually.

Senator Kernot —I might have to wait till the adjournment. Is that it? Thank you, because I had more than one minute's worth.

Question resolved in the affirmative.

Senator Kernot —We need to look at getting a better share of taking note.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT —The time had expired at 3.37 p.m.