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Wednesday, 15 May 1985
Page: 1983


Senator PRIMMER —Is the Minister for Finance aware that Opposition leaders, Messrs Peacock, Howard and Chaney, have been, with varying degrees of conviction, attacking the Government's economic statement of last night for not going far enough? Is he aware that simultaneously numerous other members of the Opposition front bench have been attacking the Government for making the cuts announced last night?


The PRESIDENT —I would ask the Minister to relate his remarks to his ministerial responsibilities.


Senator WALSH —Mr President, I am hurt by the implication that I ever do anything else. I am aware that various blabbermouths in the Opposition have been saying that this is a feeble statement and that we really ought to have cut off $6 billion or $7 billion or something like that. They did not identify from where it should be cut; nor, of course, do they like references to their really feeble effort four years ago when they produced ultimate-that is some time in the never never-savings on outlays of $560m, most of which never happened.

I am also aware that a number of other even lesser people in the Opposition have put out Press releases saying that the cuts that have been made should not have been made. Indeed, I have a collection of pieces of litter-about 11 statements-put out in the names of various people such as Mr Blunt, Mr Hunt, Mr Lloyd and so on. I have a collection of about a dozen such pieces of litter which all say that we should not have made the cuts that we have made, whereas the more senior people in the Opposition say that we should have made a lot more cuts than we have made. I leave them to reconcile that inconsistency. However, it is the sort of inconsistency that, of course, we have come to expect from the Opposition.

The essential message of the pieces of litter, some of which I referred to a while ago, is that now that these cuts have been made by this Government we can expect the end of Christian civilisation as we know it in this country, or words to that effect. In some respects the most spectacular of all the statements which were made is Senator Messner's, in which he criticised the freezing of the maximum level of nursing home benefits in two States and in the Northern Territory.


Senator Grimes —He didn't, did he?


Senator WALSH —He did. I would have thought that under most circumstances Senator Messner would have attributed the level of costs in the nursing homes in question to feather bedding and overstaffing, or both overstaffing and overpayment. That would be Senator Messner's normal reaction. But when it suits him to do a 180-degree turn, he does that as well.

Apart from the carping criticism from most members of the Opposition of the cuts that have been made and the criticism of a few members of the Opposition that those cuts are not good enough and apart from the difficulties in reconciling that contradiction, I might also direct Senator Primmer's attention to the promises for increased outlays which the Opposition made only six months ago. This is by no means an exhaustive list, but it promised to abolish the assets test on pensions, which would add something over $150m to outlays; to build the Alice Springs railway, which would add $78m during the construction period; to pay all export inspection charges, which would add $40m; to underwrite sugar to a particular level, which would add $180m; to cut out threshold payments by the States for drought, which would add $15m; and to provide a 2 : 1 subsidy for normal agricultural research. I detect again, of course, the National Party of Australia lead in the saddle-bags when the Opposition committed itself to those undertakings.

It also made promises in regard to other items such as closing the gap between the tertiary education assistance scheme and the unemployment benefit, which would add $57m; an open university, which would add $15m; the construction of a parallel runway at Sydney airport, which would add $157m a year during the construction period; and the provision of child care centres, which would add $28m. That whole list adds up to $1,180m of firm increases in expenditure in promises made by the same Opposition only six months ago. In addition, there are indicative expenditure commitments given by the Opposition, but in a slightly less certain way, to repeal the income test for pensioners over 70, which would cost $165m, to resurrect the bicentennial water resources program, which would cost $75m for a period of five years, and to construct Dr Wild's high-speed railway from Sydney to Melbourne at a cost of $720m in a six-year construction phase, and so on, and so on. That list adds up to some $900m. So there was a figure of more than $1,290m of firm promises to increase expenditure, and an additional rather squishier $900m indicative list of promises again to increase expenditure given by this Opposition only six months ago. In addition, there were Opposition promises in respect of some $2.5 billion of tax expenditure. I do not know what Senator Primmer expects me to do about this. I do not think I ought to be held responsible for the things the Opposition says, and much less should I be held responsible for attempting to reconcile the contradictions inherent in almost everything Opposition members say.


Senator PRIMMER —If I may put a supplementary question to the Minister, is it also a fact that a member of the Opposition suggested that there would also be inserted, on top of the proposed tax cuts, a wine tax?


Senator WALSH —The Opposition pre-election promise, as I remember it, was to abolish the wine tax, while simultaneously saying that it was in favour of broadly based consumption taxes which were ubiquitous in their application. That is another contradiction which the Opposition has yet to reconcile.