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Thursday, 9 June 1994
Page: 1667

Senator COOK (Minister for Industry, Science and Technology and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for Science) (6.44 p.m.) —The parliament is debating the appropriation bills and, as is normal on occasions such as this, there has been a long list of speakers. We have heard today from many on the other side of the chamber and from some on this side of the chamber about the appropriations the government proposes to make to the various parliamentary departments and other departments of the government.

  It has been a wide ranging debate. It has been typified as usual by a degree of criticism, by some positive suggestions, by the focus on particular interests that senators in this place have and by a degree of the flourish, rhetoric and argument that always attends this debate. In essence, it has been an opportunity for honourable senators to put their views about the budget and the state of the economy, and they have done so. While not yielding one whit to the criticism that has been levelled at the government, nonetheless I thank honourable senators for the way in which they have conducted themselves in this debate and for the way in which they have put their views forward.

  In closing the debate for the government, I am required to say that, while I do not intend to address each particularity of argument, we feel strongly that the 1994-95 budget put down by the Treasurer (Mr Willis) in the House of Representatives on 10 May is a good budget. This budget balances the need for continuing fiscal responsibility by the government with the need to reduce the deficit and meet the objectives of our medium-term deficit reduction program, the need to have regard to the social issue of unemployment and—as outlined in the white paper on jobs, industry and regional development—the need to commit ourselves to dealing with social equity by creating circumstances in which the unemployed can more easily find work and find the skills to fit them to the work that will increasingly become available.

  This budget has come down at a time when the Australian economy has emerged from recession and is in strong growth. In the quarterly accounts for March we have seen growth of the order of five per cent. The underlying trend figure is 4.3 per cent and, as the Treasurer has indicated, it is that figure on which he would like to focus. He also wants to achieve improvements in other areas of the economy.

  There has been some criticism about the investment growth in the economy forecast in this budget being achievable—we forecast investment at 14 1/2 per cent. One of the main criticisms has been the reasonableness of that forecast and people have sought to discount it or express their views about it.

  The figures we saw in the quarterly accounts are for the 1993-94 year, when the forecast for business investment growth was at one per cent. It is not surprising to see that the results in the March accounts were on track for that level of investment. We believe the settings in the economy are right. The accounts show that there is a higher and increasing profit share for business and that the underlying rate of inflation remains low while growth remains high. The recent survey of the Business Council of Australia on investment expectations by their members buoys us, as do the comments of most of the key commentators that the investment figures we have put in this budget are realisable and achievable. The circumstances for that to flow are there and that will be demonstrated by the returns in further quarterly accounts.

  This budget has tried to balance the aims of managing the economy and meeting the major issues of social equity. Some commentators have criticised us for not applying more funds to the reduction of the deficit. We have applied a considerable amount of funds to dealing with unemployment and we certainly acknowledge that everyone will have a different opinion of how quickly we can move on the deficit, what is reasonable in the circumstances and what is the subjective value of a social equity program of the sort that we have undertaken.

  The government regards unemployment as the major problem in the economy and a problem demonstrably that no Western country has been able to solve as far as the long-term unemployed are concerned. Australia, in terms of the white paper initiative, is leading the charge in this area. I think that is the right balance in this budget. The prudent and responsible mid-term deficit reduction program is also appropriate. With those words, I commend the bills to the chamber.

  Amendment negatived.

  Original question resolved in the affirmative.

  Bills read a second time, and passed through their remaining stages without requests or debate.

  Bills received from the House of Representatives.