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Wednesday, 15 May 1985
Page: 1980

Senator COLLARD —Can the Minister for Finance explain how the receipt of proceeds of the sale of property is a saving of expenditure? Should not items such as the proposed sale of the Belconnen Mall and disposal of some defence properties more properly appear as an estimate of revenue and not have been included as part of last night's reductions in expenditure? Are these not classic examples of the sort of sleight of hand which typified the Treasurer's statement?

Senator WALSH —The answer is no, there has been no sleight of hand. The measures announced last night are unpadded and non-rubbery reductions from the Forward Estimates of expenditure. The Forward Estimates are determined or defined by internationally accepted accountancy conventions. So the answer to the question is no, there has been no fiddling with the figures and no attempt to conceal the truth. Conceptually, I agree with Senator Collard. There is a case to be put that items such as the sale of assets should not be regarded as savings on expenditure. But because of the internationally accepted accountancy rules under which Australia operates-I think they are exactly the same rules that operated under the previous Government-it is technically a reduction in the Forward Estimates. There is a case to be put, but if Australia is to operate under internationally accepted accountancy conventions, we either abide by those conventions or we do not.

Since Senator Collard is interested in matters like this, I refer him to the fact that when the Government of which he was a back bench supporter went through its feeble cost cutting exercise in 1981, it claimed that there would be $560m eventually ongoing savings in Budget outlays, most of which, of course, never happened. The reason that the statement was so feeble in the first place-most of the feeble measures which the statement forecast never happened anyway-was that that Government carried in its saddle bags both the lead of the then Country Party and the lead of the then Prime Minister, who ought to have been a member of the Country Party, anyway.

Even after items such as those which Senator Collard has identified have been notionally subtracted from the total, the figure is well in excess of $1 billion. But if Senator Collard wishes to take into account actual changes in outlays from one year to the next, which are not necessarily the same thing as actual changes in Forward Estimates, he also ought to add to the savings figure an additional $110m for the community employment program. Under the decisions announced last night expenditure on the community employment program in 1985-86 will be $120m less than the estimate for this year, but only $10m of that was counted in the statement, because only $10m was a saving, from the Forward Estimates as defined. Throughout that exercise the Government stuck to the technical definition of Forward Estimates. So we did not add on to the $1,259m the extra $110m from the community employment program which we could have added; nor did we subtract from that $1,259m the figure for the sale of the Belconnen Mall and a number of other smaller proposed sales of government property. We stuck to the correct rules and conventions throughout the exercise.