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Monday, 30 March 1987
Page: 1671


Mr BRUMBY —Can the Prime Minister inform the House whether there is likely to be a continuation of the decline in the Budget deficit as a proportion of gross domestic product in the forthcoming financial year?


Mr HAWKE —I thank the honourable member for Bendigo for his question and, yes, I can assure him that there will be a further decline in 1987-88 of the proportion of the gross domestic product that the deficit represents. I think the honourable member for Bendigo will recall that we inherited from the Leader of the Opposition a deficit which represented 5 per cent of the gross domestic product. In fact in the last Budget the deficit for 1986-87 was brought down to 1 1/2 per cent of gross domestic product. I can inform the honourable member that for 1987-88 the deficit will be an even lower proportion of the gross domestic product. The honourable member will obviously compare that record of fiscal management and fiscal responsibility with what is happening on the other side. From the dramatic events of last week we know that the Opposition does not know how to handle the fact that the Leader of the Opposition has racked up a credibility gap of $16 billion. If that produced a frenzy in the shadow Leader of the Opposition--


Mr Sinclair —Poor Bob. You said there would be no capital gains tax. How do we believe you?


Mr HAWKE —We are getting some interjection from the Leader of the National Party. All that needs to be said about the Leader of the National Party is that he has been properly described by the President of the National Party in Queensland as someone who cannot tell the truth. They are not my words. That is what Sir Robert Sparkes has described him as-a man who cannot tell the truth. So that is how much notice we should take of the Leader of the National Party. The credibility gap of the Leader of the Opposition was $16 billion as we spoke in the House last week.


Mr Donald Cameron —Madam Speaker, I take a point of order. You have endeavoured to be fairly strict in relation to people being accused of being liars, et cetera. Has the Prime Minister introduced a new means of denigrating somebody as not being a truthful person? In future, are we to be allowed to stand up in this place and say that some outside source has described someone as dishonest or as a liar and that therefore it is valid to use that language?


Madam SPEAKER —The Prime Minister made it clear that he was quoting and that the words were not his own.


Mr Donald Cameron —Madam Speaker, I take a point of order. I realise that it is the Prime Minister you are dealing with and that that presents its own difficulties. However, are you saying that from now on we can stand up and say, `Jimmy Smith said that the Prime Minister is a liar' and get away with it? Is that what you are saying we can do from now on? That is what it boils down to.


Madam SPEAKER —The quotation has been used in this House and approved by preceding Speakers.


Mr HAWKE —As I was saying, when we were dealing with this matter last Thursday the credibility gap of the Leader of the Opposition was $16 billion but, as a result of what has been said by the Leader of the Opposition in the Senate, as quoted in the Australian Financial Review last Friday, it looks as though we may have to add another $2 billion. Under the byline of Mr Steketee in the Sydney Morning Herald of 27 March we have the following headline and statement:

Chaney diverges from the Howard line on taxation

The Leader of the Opposition in the Senate, Senator Chaney, has held open the possibility of dropping proposals to broaden indirect taxes and relying solely on spending cuts to fund large income tax cuts.

So there is another $2 billion we may have to add to the existing $16 billion credibility gap of the Leader of the Opposition. We also find that the Leader of the Opposition is not quite sure now where he stands on the assets test. I remind the House that the Leader of the Opposition protested last Thursday that the Opposition's only commitments-I ask the House to note this-which carry, as he puts it, a quantifiable cost, are the abolition of the fringe benefits tax, the capital gains tax and the lump sum superannuation tax, which he calculated amounted to $800m. In fact they amount to over $1 billion. But it is interesting that he did not include the abolition of the assets test in his quantifiable figure. We want to know, and I think some of the people behind the Leader of the Opposition would want to know, where the Leader of the Opposition now stands on the assets test. Has he finally come back to his original position? His original position was that he approved of the principle of an assets test. It looks as though now the Leader of the Opposition has come back to it.

I am reluctant to have to refer again to the Deputy Leader of the National Party but on the weekend the Deputy Leader of the National Party also made a very significant commitment. I know, as we all know, that the Leader of the Opposition was following the proceedings at the Lakeside very closely on the weekend. Honourable members will remember that he had a celebratory champagne drink-but he had it too early. This is what the Deputy Leader of the National Party had to say-


Mr Reith —I take a point of order, Madam Speaker. My point of order is on two grounds. Firstly, I ask you to rule on the question of whether the answer is relevant. Secondly, my point of order rests on the grounds of previous practice in this House-I can give you examples-where previous Speakers, when Ministers have continually abused Question Time by taking, as the Prime Minister has in this instance, in excess of five minutes to answer a question, have asked Ministers to wind up their answers.


Madam SPEAKER —I ask the Prime Minister to draw his answer to a close.


Mr HAWKE —I will certainly do that, Madam Speaker. I just want to draw your attention to the commitment made by the Deputy Leader of the National Party at the weekend. He said:

We cannot go on taxing fuel, now costing consumers $5.6 billion a year . . . Removal of fuel excise . . . would require an expenditure cut of $5.6 billion to compensate for the loss of revenue.

So I also ask whether the Leader of the Opposition endorses that position of the Deputy Leader of the National Party. In conclusion, I repeat to the honourable member for Bendigo: Yes, this Government will go on, as it has in the past four years, responsibly lowering the deficit absolutely and as a proportion of gross domestic product. That responsible attitude of this Government will stand in stark contrast to the possibly $18 billion credibility gap of the Leader of the Opposition.


Madam SPEAKER —Order! Further to the point of order raised by the honourable member for Moreton, I have looked at page 459 of House of Representatives Practice and I ask the Prime Minister to withdraw the quotation that he made. I read to the House the advice given in House of Representatives Practice which states:

A Member is not allowed to use unparliamentary words by the device of putting them in somebody else's mouth . . . or in the course of quotation.

I ask the Prime Minister to withdraw.


Mr HAWKE —I withdraw, Madam Speaker.