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Monday, 14 October 1991
Page: 1804

Mr ATKINSON —-My question is directed to the Acting Prime Minister. Last week, both the Prime Minister and the Minister for Finance assured the Parliament that the Government's cave-in on the Medicare co-payments would not have any adverse affect or impact on the integrity of the Budget. Now that the deal with the Left has resulted in a shortfall in revenue of $70m, will this mean an equivalent reduction in the better cities program and, if not, why not?

Mr HOWE —-The revised co-payment arrangements agreed by the Government will have a minimal impact on the Budget arithmetic for 1991-92. For 1991-92, outlays will increase by $69m, but the overall outlays new policy balance in the 1991-92 Budget therefore changes from a reduction of $50m to plus $19m. That is, at Budget time this year the Government had offset all new policy agreed since the 1991 Budget as well as saving a further $50m. The size of the change and any risk to the overall Budget strategy needs to be placed in its proper perspective. Changes at the margin to a Budget with outlays of some $100 billion are not an unusual occurrence. Such a small change would not be expected to alter the Budget strategy.

If one were to go back to last year's Budget, it was not only good enough but something which had to be pursued with extraordinary vigour to knock over the gas line proposal, so destroying the arithmetic of the Budget to the extent of $700m. The Opposition is prepared to raise a question, to argue and get distressed about $69m--a net $19m--whereas last year it was prepared to hop into the Budget to the extent of $700m without the slightest degree of shame. The Government has arrived at decisions in the health area which essentially preserve the integrity of the Budget.