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Budget '94: the Opposition Leader views the Budget as one of lost opportunity and believes a Federal Aboriginal land fund is wrong and would dismantle it

ELLEN FANNING: Both the Greens and the Democrats say this Budget is designed to enlist Coalition support, meaning they won't have the deciding votes in the Senate. But the Opposition says the economic document is irresponsible.

Listening to the Prime Minister, this morning, has been Dr John Hewson and the Opposition Leader is speaking now with Fran Kelly.

FRAN KELLY: John Hewson, you've criticised the forecasts that this Budget is based on and, yet, the business sector says those forecasts are realistic. What do you say to that?

JOHN HEWSON: Well, I think most people are saying that the forecasts are at the top end or the most optimistic end of the range. They depend crucially on business investment and they're calling for a very, very big pick-up in business investment - 20 per cent through the year - having only been a one per cent pick-up last year, and I don't think they understand business. I don't think that sort of confidence is there in the business community, particularly in the small to medium-sized business community where they really need the investment in order to get the jobs.

FRAN KELLY: There's nothing too radical in this Budget, is there? The papers have described it, this morning, as a steady-as-she-goes Budget; the Democrats have dubbed it a tread-water Budget. There's nothing much for you to get your teeth into, politically, is there?

JOHN HEWSON: Well, I think there is. I mean, it's a Budget of lost opportunities. They really had a unique opportunity to consolidate this recovery by getting the deficit down and keeping interest rates down, and they didn't do it. The real story is the impact of this Budget on the average Australian which they don't tell you about. It's as if you can go on spending taxpayers' money and never be accountable for it, but the fact is the average Australian is going to pay higher interest rates and is paying higher tax, and they haven't told them about that.

FRAN KELLY: The Greens and the Democrats both say that this Budget was designed with you in mind, to ensure the support of the Coalition in the Parliament. Given there's no major tax hikes, will the Opposition allow this Budget to pass?

JOHN HEWSON: Well, we will judge each element of the Budget on its merits. When we see the legislation, we'll take it to the party room and decide our position. We will just have to wait to scrutinise what they do.

FRAN KELLY: The Democrats are saying that they're still hopeful that they can band with the Opposition to force some changes in the Senate. Can you see some areas where your interests converge with the Democrats so that you can work the Senate as we saw last year?

JOHN HEWSON: Well, not at this stage. We haven't really focused on the detail and, as I say, we will just have to wait to see what form some of these decisions come through. Quite often, what is said in the Budget Paper doesn't get reflected in the legislation, so we will want to have a close look at it.

FRAN KELLY: There's $1.5 billion over ten years in the Budget for the Aboriginal land fund. Your party doesn't support that fund. Would you dismantle it if you come into government within that time?

JOHN HEWSON: Yes. We wouldn't have a land fund at the Federal level. We think a Federal land fund is wrong. There are a number of procedures already possible at the State level and, after all, the States have the constitutional responsibility for land. And we also think that the Prime Minister went way beyond Mabo in his decision at the end of last year, went way beyond the High Court decision in dealing with Mabo, and that included the land fund. We said, at the time, we were opposed to the fact that he'd gone beyond it, so we are opposed to this and, yes, we would dismantle it.

FRAN KELLY: Are there any signals in this Budget in terms of the timing of the next election?

JOHN HEWSON: I notice a lot of themedia are saying it's an election budget, and it's clearly a budget that the Government hopes puts it in a good position for an election. They spend an enormous amount of money; they haven't told anybody where that's going to come from in the course of the next three to four years. They're saying the economy is going to grow very strongly. They've pinned their hopes - it's sort of: Trust me. You know: Trust me; we'll deliver it.

But you've got every reason, as an Australian, to doubt that, and our doubt is that they really don't want to deliver another budget, so it is possible that they are conditioning people for an early election, appearing to have solved the problem of unemployment whereas, in fact, all they're going to do is move about - in this year - about 120,000 people out of the unemployment numbers on to some benefit or on to some training scheme where they won't be counted but they'll still be there because they won't have a job. And I think that's one of the features of this Budget as you dig into it. There's a lot that's said that really is designed to mislead you from the truth.

FRAN KELLY: John Hewson, thank you.