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Governemnt backs Bernie but Bernie backs off



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263/91 November 24, 1991

GOVERNMENT BACKS BERNIE BUT BERNIE BACKS OFF

The Government has defended Bernie Fraser's "attack" on the GST just as the Reserve Bank Governor indicated that he hasn't condemned the actual proposals of the Hewson/Fischer Fightback Program.

This morning, Finance Minister Ralph Willis claimed that Mr Fraser was entitled to attack Coalition policy even from his position as one of the country's most senior public servants.

However, Mr Fraser - who was known to back a broad-based

consumption tax in 1985 when it was Government policy - now seems to accept that his official position precludes intervention in party-political debate.

Mr Fraser all-but-accused the Svdnev Morning Herald of beating up his remarks which were made, he said, on the understanding that he was not making a "policy statement on the GST or any

other economic issue".

Mr Fraser indicated that his comments were made well before the release of the Coalition's reform program and, therefore, without any knowledge of its detailed contents.

The Government is desperately seeking an ally in its efforts to counter the Fightback program but its efforts to enlist Mr Fraser have backfired.

Quite properly, Mr Fraser effectively concedes that his comments were dated, out-of-context and based on ignorance.

Mr Willis' shrill defence of Mr Fraser's remarks - in the face of Mr Fraser's virtual-retraction - indicates a Government prepared to clutch at any straw.

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