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Thursday, 2 April 1987
Page: 1978

Mr CARLTON —My question is addressed to the Treasurer. I refer the Treasurer to his statement on 23 May 1985 that any proposal to sell off the Commonwealth Bank of Australia, the Australian Industry Development Corporation and Trans Australia Airlines-now Australian Airlines-constituted `vandalism of Australia's great authorities'. Does the Treasurer still hold this view?

Mr KEATING —There is no point in members of the Opposition trying to cloak any virtue on their view about the sale of public assets on the basis that they would, in any way, be a substitute for the kind of recurrent outlays cuts needed to fund these totally irresponsible expenditure commitments on the taxation side by the Opposition. That was the issue I was referring to then and I will refer to it now. I make it quite clear that the tests in public policy are to deal with the recurrent outlays of the Commonwealth. Members of the Opposition should not run around with irresponsible grab-bag tax promises to try to drag some people in and be so dishonest as to say one thing to one audience on the weekend and then to stand up in the House or hand out a Press statement and say `There are no ongoing commitments', when we know there are spokespersons from the Opposition day in and day out making commitments to draw support from certain constituencies of this country to the coalition for tax expenditure commitments and outlays commitments which we all know in this House this nation cannot afford. The Opposition's sale of assets policies--

Mr Tuckey —Madam Speaker, I raise a point of order. The Treasurer was asked quite clearly to confirm or otherwise some remarks he made previously. He has said not one word about it. Standing Order 145 requires that he be relevant. I request that he be told to be relevant.

Madam SPEAKER —It is unfortunate that members in the House are unable to get exactly the answer they have decided they want. But the person who was asked the question surely has the right to answer the question.

Mr KEATING —Because we know the changes to recurrent outlays programs are difficult and because we know that the Leader of the Oppositon always as Treasurer squibbed the test to change any of the major structural things, members of the Opposition developed a year or so ago a so-called privatisation policy under which they would sell off assets, not to retire debt but to fund grab-bag tax promises. That is the truth.

Mr Howard —Madam Speaker, I raise a point of order.

Mr KEATING —There is no point of order--

Mr Howard —You sit down.

Madam SPEAKER —Order! The Leader of the Opposition has a point of order.

Mr Howard —Madam Speaker, is it within the Standing Orders of this House and are you going to continue to allow the Treasurer to deliberately and dishonestly misrepresent the attitude of the Opposition?

Madam SPEAKER —Order! That is not a point of order. The Leader of the Opposition will not misuse a point of order.

Mr KEATING —I am on your wheel, brother; whenever you look around I will be there. Members of the Opposition have run around saying that they will abolish capital gains taxes, they will abolish fringe benefits taxes, they will change the substantiation provisions, they will offer a much reduced level of marginal tax rates at a massive cost to the revenue-and this is to be funded by the one-off sale of government assets. We know when that one-off sale was completed the Budget deficit of the Commonwealth would blow out and stay out. This is the absolute epitome of irresponsible economic promises.

Mr Cadman —Madam Speaker, I raise a point of order. You have been asked to rule as to whether the Treasurer is relevant. You have ruled that he is relevant. I would like to hear your definition of relevance. He has not been relevant to the question, to my knowledge, since he started to answer.

Madam SPEAKER —The Chair ruled that the Treasurer was in order.

Mr Cadman —Madam Speaker, I take it then that you rule that he is relevant as well.

Madam SPEAKER —Yes, the Treasurer is in order under standing order 145.

Mr KEATING —On that occasion the Prime Minister and I and other spokespersons for the Government pointed out that such a policy would not deal adequately with the fiscal problems of the Commonwealth. Now by contrast what the Government is saying, and has said in a number of Budgets, last year and this coming year, is that it will from time to time look at the assets of the Commonwealth not with any blind ideological view but as a serious and reasonable evaluation of priorities as to which assets it believes ought best to remain in the public sector and which assets ought to be disposed of. In that evaluation, whatever the Government decides should be sold will be used to reduce the Budget deficit and retire debt. It will not be used in an irresponsible grab for votes by tax promises that it knows the nation cannot afford. That is the basic difference between the responsible Party in government and the irresponsible sham that the Opposition group is now.

Mr Howard —You are dishonest.

Mr KEATING —I am dishonest?

Mr Howard —You are, yes.

Mr KEATING —I know, and you are under pressure and cracking every day, aren't you? You are falling to bits over there every day.

Madam SPEAKER —Order! The Treasurer will speak through the Chair.

Mr KEATING —I just wish he would speak to you as well, but he keeps talking to me. In fact, I like him over there; we aim to keep him over there.

Madam SPEAKER —Order! The Treasurer will still speak through the Chair.

Mr KEATING —Madam Speaker, the business community of this country and the markets of Australia and the world think that only one party in Australia has credibility in fiscal policy, and that is the Australian Labor Party. Opposition members all know that to be true; so they should not harp about privatisation as though the puny political minds over there thought about it. Any government has a right, indeed a duty, to comb through its assets from time to time and decide which ought to be held in the public sector. That is entirely another matter from saying: `We will smash Telecom, we will smash the Commonwealth Bank, we will smash Australia Post and we will smash other things'. What I said on that other occasion was right and it is still right today.