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Wednesday, 23 May 2001
Page: 24202

Senator CARR (3:22 PM) —Senator Mason has just told us how much the Liberal Party is interested in history. All we have heard is his interest in history extending to histrionics. Clearly, he has an inability to deal with the past. His real problem is that he has failed to focus on what this budget is actually on about. That is a problem when you get onto the back bench of the Liberal Party: you have to be able to read the script. The script here is that this is a budget that actually focuses on pork-barrelling. There is a great history of pork-barrelling in the Liberal Party—we understand that, and I would have thought that Senator Mason would have a clearer view of it. It is a very long and dishonourable history in fact, and we see that this government does not have any claim to subtlety on this issue at all.

The government says—unlike Senator Mason—that it is actually interested in the future. In this budget we see that the future for this government seems to consist of very little of anything other than its own future—a future that it sees in terms of what is occurring over the next couple of months. That is the future that this government is interested in. It is not interested in the future of the country. This government measures the future in terms of months, not years. That is hardly a long-term strategy, even for Senator Mason. That is hardly a long-term strategy at all.

This budget is essentially a pretty grubby exercise. Here is an attempt to buy back the support of a group of people that this government in the past had regarded as its natural constituency. The senior and aged citizens of this country are being asked to come back to the government, and they are being paid to do so in the eyes of this government.

The Labor Party—and Senator Mason ought to appreciate this—are not opposed to a sustainable retirement income policy, nor are we opposed to guarantees of income security for Australians. In fact, it is an area of social policy, Senator Mason, as you understand history, that we pioneered. We were opposed quite strongly by the Liberal Party in all the actions that were taken by the Labor Party, and all the ideological precursors of the current Liberal Party took the view that this was not a social entitlement. Of course the Labor Party demonstrated yet again how wrong the Liberal Party was on those matters.

Here we have a cynical government seeking to win back support from people who have abandoned them. And there is a huge cost involved in this exercise. Firstly, we have the assumptions built into this budget. There is an assumption that this is going to somehow or other produce a surplus—and I know that other Labor speakers have already pointed out just how fallacious that argument is. Remind us, Senator: it was only in March that this government predicted that there would be a surplus of $3.2 billion. We can look at the growth forecast, the inflation forecast and the unemployment forecast contained in this budget with a similar level of cynicism. A close examination of this budget shows that it assumes that there will be continuing global growth. It assumes that the United States economy will continue to remain prosperous. It assumes a low Australian dollar. It assumes that there will be continuing prosperity in the resources sector. These are all assumptions that are open to challenge.

If we look at the detail of this budget in terms of its attitude towards the arts—the National Library, the National Archives, the National Gallery—and in terms of science—the CSIRO—and in terms of education, we notice that all of these areas are grossly neglected by this government. In fact, in many of these cultural institutions quite savage cuts are being imposed. This country is still the fourth bottom nation of the OECD in terms of our average spending on education. This government does not do anything about that. We have a government that does not seem to have vision beyond its immediate political survival, and it is a budget that reflects this lack of vision. There are no real new opportunities being presented.

In the Age today there was a memorandum from a person presented as Shane Stone, and it said:

This one is overwhelmingly, unashamedly, about repairing political damage ... Let me be blunt. The big worry is that it will be seen as an utterly cynical exercise, too little too late. And too smart by half. And tricky too, especially when it comes to the surplus ... Forget about bringing home the bacon. This is a budget to save our bacon—

To me that sums up the situation perfectly. This is a government that has lost its way. This is a desperate attempt to regain some initiative amongst groups of people who have traditionally supported it. It will fail. (Time expired)