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Monday, 14 October 1991
Page: 1805

Mr COBB —-Can the Acting Prime Minister confirm that his $816m so-called better cities program will benefit only the major capital cities? Can the Acting Prime Minister confirm that as yet not one detailed project has been announced? Does the Acting Prime Minister think it is fair that taxpayers in rural and regional Australia should subsidise those in the cities when rural communities are in the grip of drought and are facing the worst rural recession, if not depression, since the 1890s?

Mr HOWE —-In answer to the honourable member's question, there are no proposals as yet.

Mr Reith —-So, it is a fantasy.

Dr Hewson —-When do we get the detail?

Mr HOWE —-We could do a deal. I will announce the details when the Leader of the Opposition announces the consumption tax details. I think there is a bit of a difference because I know that when I consult State governments what I propose will be essentially supported, but if the Leader of the Opposition were to consult State governments I doubt whether he would get too many State governments in support of the consumption tax. One State government that came out in support of it almost got knocked over in the process. Let us have enough of this.

The guidelines of the better cities program were not restricted to capital cities. Obviously the word `city' is a broad term and it may refer to non-metropolitan areas.

Mr Reith —-Some marginal seats involved, eh?

Mr HOWE —-It is quite open to the Premiers to nominate proposals that relate to non-metropolitan areas. As I understand it, a number of them are effectively doing that. It is worth referring to the fact that the better cities program is not about proposals that stand in isolation. As I said in the previous question, it is about better planning, about bringing together the links between housing, transport and the labour market. It is about capital expenditure at a time when the Opposition talks about capital, talks about investment, but fails to deliver.

Dr Hewson —-Where is the funding? You have not even got the money.

Mr HOWE —-The Opposition fails to deliver any specific proposals that might influence and shape investment. At the moment the States are seriously considering the approaches that they intend to take in the negotiations with the Commonwealth. We have had, I think, very fruitful early discussions. I am not in a position to announce the results of those discussions because, effectively, matters have not been to the Cabinet.

Of course, if the Opposition is saying that, in terms of its approach to capital proposals that might affect the States, it is not into consultation, reaching agreement or ensuring that what occurs does so with State and local government cooperation, I guess we understand that. We understand that its concern is not with ensuring a different approach to federalism in this country, ensuring a better relationship between levels of government or ensuring reform that sticks. Essentially, if we can get significant cooperation between the three levels of government in planning these proposals around the better cities theme, as I believe we will be able to, that will mean a great opportunity for structural change and reform in Australian cities.

One gets sick and tired of hearing the Opposition talk about micro-economic reform but, whenever one comes to a specific area of micro-economic reform, then remaining silent. We get no real sense of any clear commitments in terms of detailed policy.

Mr Reith —-What about the third runway?

Mr HOWE —-The third runway is, again, being worked at. We will get a firm decision arising out of the processes before Christmas.

Mr Reith —-That will be next Christmas.

Mr ACTING SPEAKER —-Order! I warn the honourable member for Flinders.

Mr HOWE —-We will get a firm decision this year, and it will be a decision that has been thought through and worked through in terms of all of the processes that are necessary. The answer to the question simply is: yes, non-metropolitan areas will be considered, but that will be up to the particular States. I would expect that there would be a number of proposals that deal with non-metropolitan cities.