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Monday, 14 October 1991
Page: 1802

Mr NEHL —-I direct my question to the Acting Prime Minister. Is it a fact that the cost over five years of the mad cities fantasy will exceed the proposed savings from his Medicare changes? Was his support for the Budget co-payment scheme for Medicare part of a deal to ensure Budget approval of the $816m mad cities fantasy?

Mr Beazley —-Mr Acting Speaker, I rise on a point of order. It is not because I am particularly worried about the silly question, Mr Acting Speaker, but Standing Orders under the heading relating to permissible questions states that we cannot have epithets or characterisations along the lines of `mad cities' program.

Mr Tim Fischer —-I rise on a point of order, Mr Acting Speaker. You have allowed latitude on that point. But is it any better asking for factual information in respect of the Budget priorities as put forward by the Acting Prime Minister?

Mr ACTING SPEAKER —-I am sure that by now the honourable member for Cowper will need to re-ask his question. I suggest that this time he leave out that epithet.

Mr NEHL —-As always, I bow to your advice, Mr Acting Speaker. My question without notice--it is on notice to some extent because it has been asked once already--is to the Acting Prime Minister, who hopefully will have got his act together by now. Is it a fact that over five years of his cities program the cost will exceed the proposed savings from his Medicare changes? Was his support for the Budget co-payment scheme for Medicare part of the deal to ensure Budget approval of the $816m cities program?

Mr HOWE —-I find rather extraordinary the way the Opposition fails to take an intelligent interest in a program which is supported by each of the State governments around Australia.

Mr Snowdon —-That is nothing new.

Mr ACTING SPEAKER —-Order! The honourable member for the Northern Territory!

Mr HOWE —-It provides an opportunity for major investments to occur to resolve structural problems in Australian cities at a time when we are seeking a recovery from the recessionary period. A great deal of emphasis is placed by the Opposition on the direction of investment.

There is no question of the funds for the better cities program coming out of the savings that were recently achieved in relation to health. One could have achieved all of those savings and still left a balance of savings within the health, housing and community services budget which would be equivalent to the better cities program. That program goes well beyond the budget for my portfolio.

There is no relationship between the better cities program and health and changes to Medicare. That program stands or falls in its own right. It is a modest capital program over five years. Anyone who knows anything about capital programs recognises that the amounts of money are very modest, particularly in the initial financial year, but even over five years that amount of money is a modest share of capital expenditure.

The Government is involved in a process of consultation with the States in working out the proposals and areas that will benefit from the better cities program. The Premiers have received a letter from the Prime Minister which indicates the approach of the Commonwealth and sets out in some detail the guidelines that will apply in relation to the better cities program. This week State Cabinets in three States will be considering specific proposals that will be relevant to this program. That will then provide an opportunity for the Commonwealth to begin the process of serious negotiations and choose the projects and proposals which will be funded under this program.

The criteria indicates the concern the Commonwealth has to work with the States to achieve some of the objectives that were mentioned and agreed to by all the participants in the Australian Housing Council meeting last Friday. We are concerned about improving the quality of planning; we are concerned about coordinating Commonwealth, State and local government planning; we are concerned to reduce the degree of regulation; and we are concerned to ensure that we make much better use of existing infrastructure in Australian cities. We will be looking to improve the choice that is open to Australians not only for housing affordability but also for the types of housing that might be available. There will be implications for the form and structure of Australian cities that come out of this particular program.

As I have indicated, this program will be worked out in consultation with State and local governments. It will be a capital program which, together with the States and investment that occurs on the part of the private sector, will amount to many millions of dollars beyond the investment of the Government. Australians are looking for some leadership in investment, to shape the recovery and to ensure that employment opportunities are maximised on worthwhile long term investments. Most Australians will welcome the better cities program, they will welcome the Government's leadership in this area and they will be supportive and not denigrate the Government's efforts.