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Wednesday, 18 March 1987
Page: 883

Senator SHORT —I refer the Minister for Finance to statements in last weekend's Press by the General Manager of the Australia Council, Mr Max Bourke, in response to criticisms by the Opposition's Waste Watch Committee, of which I am proud to be a member. I ask: Is the Minister aware that Mr Bourke is reported as saying that criticisms of Australia Council grants of millions of dollars of taxpayers' funds to such groups as painters and musicians in residence at trade unions, to kite makers and to gay and feminist groups are unfounded and that there is `no need for cuts in such grants'? In view of repeated claims by the Hawke Government that it is exercising major restraint in government spending and that all Australians must accept reduced living standards, how does the Minister for Finance justify such expenditure of taxpayers' funds? Does he support Mr Bourke's defence of these expenditures?

Senator WALSH —I thank Senator Short for his question, particularly as it follows the question which I was asked immediately beforehand by Senator Cook.

Senator McIntosh —It was a dorothy dixer.

Senator WALSH —No, it was not a dorothy dixer, Senator McIntosh, but it might well have been, because it illustrates the essential irrelevance of this Opposition and in particular of its Waste Watch Committee, which trivialises the question of public expenditure while remaining absolutely silent about the outrageous demand by the Australian Capital Territory branch of the doctors union to get an 85 per cent pay increase entirely at taxpayers' expense. When will the Waste Watch Committee condemn the Australian Capital Territory branch of the doctors union for its attempt to extort from the Australian taxpayer an 85 per cent-

Senator Michael Baume —We attack government spending. You have not spent it yet.

Senator WALSH —Will you condemn it, Patrick? Will you condemn it, Senator Baume? Will the honourable senator condemn the doctors union for its attempt to extort an 85 per cent pay rise from the Australian taxpayer, a pay rise which, if successful, and which, if it flowed through to the economy, would add in the next financial year something close to $140 billion to the national wage bill and induce an inflation rate in excess of 60 per cent? There is not a murmur from members of the Waste Watch Committee about the attempts at extortion by the Australian Capital Territory branch of the doctors union, not a murmur of dissent from them now, not a murmur of dissent from them in the past and not a murmur of dissent from them, I predict, in the future. They are quite happy-Senator Michael Baume and all the rest of that bunch of dissidents sitting on the back bench who are trying to usurp those positions on the Opposition front bench. That is as far as they will get, the Opposition front bench. Most of them will not make that, and they do not deserve to make it, either, even in competition with some of the incumbents. There is not a word from any of them about the things that really matter, such as extortionate wage demands by the Australian Capital Territory branch of the doctors union. All they can pick on is a few trivial matters from time to time which in total do not amount to a few million dollars; they pick up from time to time some grant which has a funny name and from time to time they come out with their Sunday Press statements condemning particular projects which they say this Government has authorised when, in fact, upon investigation they are found to be projects authorised by the Fraser Government when Mr Howard was Treasurer.

Senator Michael Baume —Rubbish. That is a total lie. That is absolute nonsense.

Senator WALSH —We know how reliable the honourable senator's word is. We know all about those Patrick Partners prospectuses the honourable senator used to write.

Senator Michael Baume —Total nonsense.

The PRESIDENT —Order! There are too many interjections. I also ask the Minister to address the Chair and not answer interjections.

Senator WALSH —Certainly, Mr President. In reply, insofar as it deserves a reply at all, as far as I am concerned, irrespective of what Mr Bourke says, all items of public expenditure are under scrutiny. That has been the practice of this Government.

In closing, I invite Senator Michael Baume, if he is to make a personal explanation as he usually does at the end of Question Time-he makes lots of personal explanations because he has a lot to explain-to take the opportunity to do something really worth while and condemn the Australian Capital Territory branch of the doctors union for its ruthless attempt to extort an 85 per cent pay rise from the Australian taxpayer.

Senator SHORT —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. I note Senator Walsh's totally irrelevant answer, his total non-answer and his non-addressing of the question. I ask him again to answer the two specific questions I asked: Firstly, how does he justify the expenditure of taxpayers' funds to which I referred? Secondly, does he support Mr Bourke's defence of this expenditure?

Senator WALSH —I do not know whether Senator Short wants me to repeat all the invitations I have issued, but I invite Senator Short as well to declare publicly his view on the attempt by the Australian Capital Territory branch of the doctors union--

Senator Chaney —I take a point of order, Mr President. A high degree of licence is allowed in this place as to how Ministers choose not to answer questions, but two quite specific and limited questions have been put to this Minister. To say that he has raved on would be a polite way of describing what he has done for the last five minutes. Quite simple questions have been put to him again. I suggest, Mr President, that if you cannot require him, because of the practice of this place, to answer the question you at least prevent him from debating in a way which is thoroughly offensive to everybody.

The PRESIDENT —There is no point of order. I have no power as to how the Minister shall answer the question. However, the Minister shall not debate the question. I ask Senator Walsh to reply as quickly as possible.

Senator WALSH —Certainly, Mr President, although I do not believe that I was debating the question. The global funding for the Australia Council will be considered in the context of the 1987 Budget, as it has been considered in the context of every Budget since this Government has been in office. However, unless there is a change of policy, as distinct from the level of funding, which has-if I recall correctly-applied under both previous Labor and coalition governments ever since 1973 or 1974, the itemised distribution of whatever global amount of funds is provided to the Australia Council will be left to that institution and its advisory committees.