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Wednesday, 25 March 1987
Page: 1477

Mr STAPLES —Can the Treasurer inform the House of the Government's intention regarding cuts to Commonwealth spending in 1987?

Mr KEATING —The Government has already announced its intention to bring down a statement of changes to outlays which will anticipate changes in the next budgetary year-in part through this calendar year-to see that fiscal policy in this country adjusts with the external conditions which Australia faces. That will of necessity mean, by the very precise mathematics of the Budget, that the Government's numbers simply will add up as they have added up in the last four Budgets and that the Government will be accountable to the public in terms of the kind of changes to public outlays that it will judge to be necessary to produce the kind of fiscal policy it believes Australia needs. This is in marked contrast to the Opposition which is, as I have said in this House before, tugging away at the structure of discipline in fiscal policy and in other areas of policy by seeking to have massive additions to the Budget deficit, but at the same time not saying where it will fund them. Today there was a most revealing interview with the Leader of the Opposition in the Sydney Morning Herald. It gives one cause to wonder why the public is concerned about the state of politics in this country and the integrity of politicians. I will read to the House the two paragraphs concerned-one paragraph apart. Mr Steketee was questioning the Leader of the Opposition about the Opposition's proposed $5 billion cuts. The Leader of the Opposition is reported to have said:

I think part of the disillusionment of people with politicians and politics is their dogged determination to try and have it both ways-to be a macho generalist but benignly specific-

One paragraph later he is reported to have said:

The significance of the document in the longer term context is that it shows that we are serious about making the big changes in the first six months even though no-one should assume any of the decisions have any status.

He is saying in one paragraph what is wrong with politics, what is wrong with the disillusionment of people with politicians is that they are macho generalists. I refer to the quote:

. . . we are serious about making big changes . . .

He went on to say:

. . . but benignly specific . . .

In another paragraph he went on to say:

. . . though no-one should assume that any of the decisions have any status.

This is the sort of stuff from a leader of a major party, the Leader of the Opposition. No wonder the Leader of the Opposition has problems with his leadership. On the one hand he is saying that people are disillusioned with politicians who talk tough and will not say what they are doing, and in the following paragraph he is saying: `Yes, we're going to get into it, but none of the decisions have any status'. That is the sort of amoral position that the current Liberal Party is in.

Mr Spender —Madam Speaker, I raise a point of order. The Treasurer is not here to answer questions or to make comments upon statements which have been made outside this House. This is, as you know, Madam Speaker, quite contrary to the ruling which you yourself sought and which you yourself gained.

Madam SPEAKER —The Treasurer will conclude his answer.

Mr KEATING —I will if Clarence Darrow will permit me to continue. In other words, the Leader of the Opposition junked the lot. He went on to say:

. . . to deny the abolition of the first home owners scheme, raising the female pension age and retain pension indexation . . .

That accounts for more than half of the $5 billion or the $2.3 billion of recurrent expenditure savings listed in the supposedly leaked document. He went on to say:

. . . there was also a need to come clean with the electorate.

He said that in the same interview. Then he said:

. . . while the specific cuts in Government spending outlined in a leaked Liberal Party draft document had not been approved, there were elements of the general approach with which he agreed.

These are the politics of Ash Street. In case anyone in the House does not know what Ash Street is, it is where the former Liberal Party headquarters were in Sydney. These are the politics of the Sir Robert Askin school of politics-to say that black is white; to say in one paragraph that what is wrong with politics is that we have all these machos who talk tough but will not be specific; and then in the following sentence say: `We will make the big changes, but none of the decisions have any status'. This is the Liberal Party at its hustler worst; cheap hustler politics which mean nothing; all talk coming from the cynicism of the Askin years, the boys in Ash Street.

The big debates in this country have been on the hordes coming downwards from China, F111s, state aid and the Petrov affair. All of that cynicism which Australian politics is laced with is turning up now in our national politics from the mouth of the Leader of the Opposition. Is it any wonder that the Opposition has no leadership, when it cannot even say that it has any savings to match the $16 billion of additions to the deficit? We have annotated that $16 billion line by line, yet the Opposition still leaves it on the public record and seeks to have credibility.