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Thursday, 30 April 1987
Page: 2278

Mr HUNT —Does the Minister representing the Minister for Resources and Energy accept the findings of the Industries Assistance Commission last November that the abolition of the Commonwealth excise on petroleum products would reduce the consumer price index in the order of 5 per cent to 6 per cent and revenue by $5.6 billion requiring budgetary cuts of that magnitude? Does the Minister agree with the appraisal by some banks that this should reduce interest rates by 5 to 6 per cent? In view of the fact that high inflation and interest rates are the two major problems besetting the Australian economy, will the Government give urgent consideration to this IAC proposition?

Mr BARRY JONES —I thank the Deputy Leader of the National Party for his question. The considerations he raises are ones of very important public policy. I have no doubt that when the matter comes, in the usual course of business, to the Cabinet for its consideration appropriate weight will be given to that view. Obviously the decision will be made at Cabinet level.

Mr KEATING —Madam Speaker, I will give a little more weight to it now.

Mr Spender —I rise on a point of order, Madam Speaker. The Government must decide who it is it wants to have jump up. There is one question, one answer; and the Treasurer cannot get up and supplement or add to it. He should be told to sit down.

Madam SPEAKER —Order! The Treasurer is quite in order.

Mr KEATING —This question is a classic indication of what the Prime Minister has just said.

Opposition members interjecting-

Madam SPEAKER —Order! The Treasurer is quite in order.

Mr Porter —Does that mean that the Opposition will get supplementary questions?

Madam SPEAKER —Order! The honourable member might like to read House of Representatives Practice where he will find that this is not uncommon.

Mr Spender —Further to the point of order: The practice has been that if a question is directed to a particular Minister, it may be taken by another Minister. It has not been the practice for one Minister to get up and say `I have not the slightest idea what the answer to this question should be', then sit down after having been on his feet for a few minutes, and then for another Minister to get up and say: `I can answer the question and do a better job'. The Treasurer should not be allowed to answer the question. He should be told to sit down.

Madam SPEAKER —Order! The Treasurer is quite in order.

Mr KEATING —The question is a classic indication of what the Prime Minister said, that we will see two parties going to an election with two different policies, trying to buy votes from two different groups.

Mr Tuckey —I rise on a point of order, Madam Speaker. The question is now one of relevance. The Treasurer is abusing this Parliament as an excuse to tip another bucket on the Opposition. That is all he wishes to stand for. He does not intend to expand on the answer of nothing that was given by the previous Minister. That is not an opportunity the Chair should afford him.

Madam SPEAKER —Order! The Treasurer will add to the answer given by the Minister for Science and will answer the question.

Mr KEATING —The question is predicated on commitments which the Deputy Leader of half of the National Party made earlier in trying to buy votes with a fiscal buy-down of the consumer price index to add to the Budget deficit. His branch of the National Party will be out trying to cadge votes with that promise, while the Liberal Party will be out trying to cadge votes with other tax promises; knowing that, if the tax promises were implemented, it would destroy the fiscal policy of the Commonwealth, interest rates, exchange rates and economic recovery.

I should not have thought that, after the Prime Minister gave his answer, the Deputy Leader of the National Party would have obliged him by making it quite clear that that is what the Opposition's tactic will be-to go with one stack of grab-buying promises to one part of the electorate and another stack of grab-buying promises to another, all of which would blow fiscal policy out of the water.

Fiscal buy-downs of the CPI could have been thought about with the oil revenues in 1977 and 1978, but the previous Government did not want to do that then. As a result we ended up with 11 per cent inflation, that Government pocketed the tax money and left the 60 per cent marginal rates. Now, to try to dust off their concern about the rural community after overvaluing the dollar for 20 years and ripping the guts out of rural incomes, Opposition members wish to say: `Yes, we would spend $2 billion buying down the CPI'. Then of course after an election they try to put it all together to come up with a reasonable policy, while they falsified their claims to the electorate about fiscal grabs they know that the nation could never afford.

Madam SPEAKER —Order! May I read to the House this passage on page 500 of House of Representatives Practice:

More than one Minister has answered a particular question without notice in the case of shared responsibility.

Mr Spender —It has not happened in the last six years.

Madam SPEAKER —Do not interrupt. It continues:

In 1970 a question was directed to and answered by the Minister for the Army. Upon completion of the answer the Minister for Defence indicated that the subject of the question lay more within his ministerial responsibilities and proceeded to add to the information already supplied.

So, as the Chair ruled, the Treasurer was totally in order.