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Tuesday, 23 April 1985
Page: 1359

Senator PUPLICK —My question is directed to the Minister for Finance. The Minister will undoubtedly have seen the text of a speech given by the Minister for Industry, Technology and Commerce, Senator Button, to a National Meeting of Concern on science and technology held in Canberra on 16 April in which Senator Button said, in attempting to justify the false proposition that there had been an increase in appropriations to support scientific research:

But it is other innovations in which the biggest increases are in the pipeline, and if you then add those to the appropriations for existing schemes and bodies, a very significant increase in science and technology funding is evident. As I said, some of these figures are perforce estimates, but they are as follows, projected for 1985-86: 150% tax concession, revenue forgone: $80m . . .

Since the Minister for Finance has today described the transfers of outlays to taxation concessions, when compiling figures on expenditure, as 'devious' and as a 'subterfuge', will he now brand Senator Button as a devious practitioner of subterfuge in his comments made to the scientific community?

Senator WALSH —I presume that that is the bottom of the barrel question. It certainly takes the prize for puerility. It may surprise Senator Puplick to know that I have not read Senator Button's speech, although a very good speech I am sure it was. I do have a few things to do these days other than to read Senator Button's speeches, much less Senator Puplick's. But I will take Senator Puplick's word for it that Senator Button said that the estimated cost of the 150 per cent deduction was what he claimed it was. Senator Puplick then attempts to equate that with what the Fraser Government did in its last year in office. The full year cost of the assortment of tax concessions which the Fraser Government offered in its last year in office was, from memory, about $600m or $700m, all added on in one year in a Budget prepared by a devious Government, led by a devious Treasurer and a devious Prime Minister, in preparation for a premature election. It was a Budget full of handouts with no economic strategy whatsoever. It was a political strategy designed to buy up and bribe a sufficient number of pressure groups to satisfy that Government's desperate desire to cling on to power. Those were the circumstances in which the host, the gaggle, of tax expenditures of 1982 appeared, by a Government which wanted to bribe the electorate and to devise a method of not including the cost of those bribes in its current year's estimates or its current year's deficit. The devious former Government worked out a strategy to transfer the cost of that to the next Government, which it hoped would be itself but which, of course, turned out to be another.

That is not the circumstance in which the policy to which Senator Button apparently referred recently was conceived. That was conceived in the circumstances of a government that everybody knew would be returned to office and would be held responsible for the things that it had done, for its own deficit, a government which knew it would have to accept responsibility for the policies that it had put in place. That is quite different from the expectations of the previous Government, apart, of course, from the enormous difference in the order of magnitude of the figures.