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Western Australia: Premier says States and Territories have already addressed budget problems and a further bite by the Federal Government is not on; says there is a need to get to the detail of native title to discuss how to make legislation workable

MONICA ATTARD: West Australian Premier, Richard Court, says a second budget bite by the Federal Government isn't on. Mr Court was echoing Queensland Premier, Rob Borbidge, who says Canberra will have one hell of a political fight if funds are cut to the States. It was something of a pre-emptive strike by Mr Borbidge who warned that the Federal Government's revised budget forecast shouldn't be used to renege on agreed Federal-State funding. In Perth, Richard Court, told our reporter, John McNamara, the States have done enough.

RICHARD COURT: All of the States and Territories have already been very generous in helping the Federal Government address their budget problems. To come back for a second bite, certainly wouldn't be on because all of us are under incredible pressure, and the Federal Government must simply go through the changes that we've been forced to go through at the State level to make sure that we can live within our means. I mean, it's scandalous that the country at the Federal level has been not operating in surplus. The Federal Government has access to all of the growth revenues, and for the last decade or so, this country should have been running surpluses, as is the case now in New Zealand.

JOHN MCNAMARA: From the way Mr Borbidge was speaking, it sounds like he might have got some kind of warning that another attempt by the Federal Government to perhaps renege on the agreement that was reached might be in the pipeline. Have you received any such warning?

RICHARD COURT: I mean, not at this stage. There will be a Premiers' financial conference in March where we will be given, no doubt, the guidelines for the next financial year. The Federal Government tried to ambush us in a way last year, but that backfired badly. The States and Territories have made it clear that we want to work in a cooperative way to address these matters, but I mean, we are stuck, the States are stuck with a very narrow revenue base. We don't get access to the major growth revenues, and it makes our job incredibly difficult. So when the Federal Government, which does have access to the growth revenues, they should be able to get their house in order without again putting pressure back on the States.

JOHN MCNAMARA: On another issue: ATSIC says it will be lobbying State Premiers ahead of their meeting with Mr Howard next week with regard to native title. Have you been approached?

RICHARD COURT: Well, not at this stage but, you know, we don't have any difficulty at all in being lobbied by any organisations. The native title issues have been around now for some five years and I think the time for talk has sort of long gone. We don't mind sitting down having negotiations on working out practical resolutions, but not a broad-brushed approach. We want to get down to the detail as to how we can make the legislation workable and how we can eventually start getting some positive benefits through for Aboriginal people, because in the five years since the original ruling came down, there have been many advances, but, in practical terms, there are no practical advantages being delivered to Aboriginal people, and that must change, and it can only change when the legislation is made workable.

MONICA ATTARD: West Australian Premier, Richard Court.