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Tuesday, 26 May 1987
Page: 3344

Mr HURFORD (Minister for Community Services and Minister Assisting the Treasurer)(8.16) —As is the tradition of this House, I thank all honourable members who have taken part in the debate. The Government rejects the Opposition's second reading amendment. There are many good reasons why this should be done. The amendment refers to the adverse impact on ordinary families and businesses, as well as on farm costs, of increases in telephone and postal charges.

As the honourable member for Charlton (Mr Robert Brown) pointed out in the debate, this Government does not believe that public enterprises need in any way to be feather-bedded. They do not need to receive an advantage that is not available to any enterprise of a commercial nature in the private sector. They can, and should, provide their share of the taxation revenue to the Government, and this measure does just that. The Government is progressively ensuring that public enterprises compete on an equal footing with private enterprises. I repeat that we believe that a public enterprise with duties and operations of a commercial nature should not have any advantage over a similar enterprise in the private sector. We believe in public enterprise. We believe that it is efficient and can be even more efficient. We do not believe that it needs feather-bedding.

As the honourable member for Charlton and the honourable member for Canning (Mr Gear) pointed out in this debate, it is the ultimate hypocrisy for members of the Opposition to talk about increases in farm costs arising from this Bill. They would privatise many of our public enterprises, enterprises which provide substantial amounts of revenue to the Government and which serve the community rather than a small group of private vested interests. Those opposite would eliminate the cross-subsidies to rural users of telephone and postal services. Under the policies of honourable members opposite telephone and postal charges would rise to prohibitive levels. This gives some indication of the needless nitpicking of the Opposition's second reading amendment and some idea as to why the Government rejects it.

As a government we want to end on a positive note. Obviously, the measures in this Bill must be seen in the context of the May economic statement. The Government recognises that the current economic situation requires budgetary restraint. There has been a $9 billion body blow to our country. A sum of $9 billion has been written off our export income because of factors that are totally beyond our control. The May statement has reduced the Budget deficit for 1987-88 by more than $4 billion. That has been necessary not only to reduce the pressures on the Australian capital market and to reduce the long term rate of interest, but also to make some impact on the onerous interest charges which are now accruing from the large amount of borrowing that the Government has had to undertake over recent years. Indeed, a cut in government spending at this time has also been necessary in order to have an impact on imports-to reduce imports-and to play a part in stimulating exports. As the Treasurer (Mr Keating) has said, these measures mark the culmination of the most intensive and exhaustive review of Commonwealth programs in living memory.

The measures in this May statement reduce the growth rate in government spending to its lowest level in 30 years. We recognise that some of these measures are tough and difficult. But any other budgetary policy would be economically irresponsible at this time. We are obliged to follow the responsible path. I repeat that we have had $9 billion written off our export income. The process of economic reconstruction which is now under way requires tough measures such as the ones contained in this Bill.

By contrast, the Opposition has no economic policy whatsoever. What a tragic event was the response from the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Howard) to the May economic statement. It is tragic for the country that we have such paucity of thought emanating from the Opposition at this time. I believe that the honourable member for Mackellar (Mr Carlton) is looked upon as the intellectual base of the Opposition. If that is so, it is no wonder that we have so little coming from that side of the House. Opposition members say that they would cut expenditure further. But they refuse to tell the Australian public where they would cut it. In his reply to the May statement, the Leader of the Opposition refused to present any kind of alternative strategy.

The measures in this Bill will lead to reductions in the Budget deficit of $330m in 1987-88 and $416m in 1988-89. The Opposition's amendment is merely a smokescreen to hide the lack of any kind of alternative policy. Opposition members are quite happy to come into the House and shed crocodile tears about various measures that the Government has the responsibility to introduce. But they do not tell us how they would reduce the Budget deficit. In short, the measures contained in this Bill give effect to two decisions announced by the Treasurer in the May economic statement. The withdrawal of the sales tax exemption for certain Commonwealth authorities carrying on commercial functions will ensure that those authorities are not placed at a commercial advantage over their private sector counterparts. Changes to the sales tax law to vary the concessions available to passengers arriving from overseas are complementary to changes being made to the customs duty passenger concessions. I commend the Bill to the House.

Question put:

That the words proposed to be omitted (Mr Carlton's amendment) stand part of the question.