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Manager of Government Business in the Senate confident that as the budget debate proceeds the Government position will be supported by the Senate and the public

PETER THOMPSON: With only a week to go till Budget day, the Prime Minister is meeting the people who hold the fate of his budget in their hands - the minor parties in the Senate. The Greens meet him today; the Democrats on Thursday.

And today's AGB McNair results showing the majority of people support the minor parties' stance, could only give strength to their arm.

Joining us now is the Leader of Government Business in the Senate, Rod Kemp, and he is talking to Pru Goward.

PRU GOWARD: Well, Rod Kemp, welcome to the program, but can you deny the minor parties their position on your budget with, obviously, community support like this?

ROD KEMP: I think this budget debate has got a long way to go, Pru, and I think you'll find that as this debate proceeds and the arguments are put, you'll find that the Government position is strongly supported.

PRU GOWARD: What, you think it will be strongly supported in the Senate?

ROD KEMP: Well, I think that it's clear .. well, I certainly hope so in the Senate, Pru, but I think that in the public it's extremely important. The public appreciate that you have got to have a government that is taking responsible budget action and that that's the argument which will come through.

PRU GOWARD: They don't seem to believe that the $8 billion budget deficit is enough reason to do the slashing and burning you're planning.

ROD KEMP: Well, I think it will depend on the questions which are asked, Pru, and I think that the question in people's mind is that they want a responsible government to bring down a responsible budget which will lead to a lower interest rate regime, and that's the sort of question, I think, which would elicit a different response.

PRU GOWARD: Rod Kemp, does it bother you that your government hasn't, obviously, convinced the electorate that the $8 billion black hole that you talk about is a real issue and must be addressed and that there would be benefits, e.g., lower interest rates definitely flowing from it?

ROD KEMP: As I say, Pru, I think that that debate has still got a way to go and I think that with the Budget coming up there will be a focus on the massive deficit that Labor has left us.

And I see that there's another report this morning from another forecaster, which says in fact the actual deficit is closer to $9 billion.

PRU GOWARD: This is the Access Economics report. Do you think, though, that it is going to be possible to persuade the Democrats and the Greens on issues like changes to university fees where they have really made such a strong stand on it already?

ROD KEMP: Well, as I said I think that the arguments are going to have to be put and that there'll be a sort of a very major public debate on that and it is our hope that in the end a responsible approach will prevail.

The public elected a government to govern. The Government has got to bring down a budget which addresses the economic problems which are facing the country and we hope that in that context that commonsense will prevail.

PRU GOWARD: But with results like this, do you acknowledge that so far it's the Government that's been on the back foot and hasn't been able to persuade the electorate of its view?

ROD KEMP: I am not sure that that's the case, Pru. I think that the Government has put a view and some of these things are going to be fairly tough decisions, obviously, and clearly the cases for that have to be put to the public. But I think in the end, Pru, that you'll find that the ultimate question that the public want .. they want a government which is prepared to take the decisions to ensure that there is an appropriate fiscal strategy to deal with the serious economic problems which are facing the country.

PRU GOWARD: Do you think the Senate is entitled to make you stick to your promises?

ROD KEMP: Well, it's interesting. The promises that we made, for example, in relation to workplace reform and Telstra - we have found, at least in the pre-budget manoeuvring, Pru, that the Labor Party and minority parties have tended to oppose those positions. So I think that debate I think is fairly confused.

PRU GOWARD: Right, so in other words you feel entitled not to meet your promises on other issues and not to have the....

ROD KEMP: I think that we are a party, Pru, which takes our promises very seriously, and I think that one will have to wait to see just precisely what occurs when the Budget comes down. But it is very clear that Mr Beazley and his colleagues left us with a major budgetary problem and that budgetary problem has got to be addressed.

PRU GOWARD: Rod Kemp, thank you for your time this morning.

ROD KEMP: Thank you, Pru.

PRU GOWARD: The Leader of Government Business in the Senate, Senator Rod Kemp.