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Wednesday, 14 December 1983
Page: 3750

Senator MAGUIRE —Can the Minister representing the Treasurer document the interest, or lack of it, in economic matters displayed by members of the Liberal and National Party Senate Opposition, as evidenced by their performance at Question Time in recent weeks? Is the number of questions asked on economic matters an indicator of an economy which is strengthening, contrary to claims made yesterday in the Age by the shadow Treasurer?

Senator WALSH —I do have some figures on the analysis of questions asked by the Opposition during this session of Parliament. The Opposition asked no questions on economic growth and on interest rates the Opposition-at least the Liberal and Country parties; I am excluding the Australian Democrats-asked one. Members of the Opposition asked three questions on the Budget. They did ask 20 on incomes policies, presumably because they do not have an incomes policy of their own. On macroeconomic issues in general they asked a total of 45 questions, which was about 9 per cent of all the questions they asked. However, that is about 6 per cent higher than the figure for the Australian Democrats; approximately 3 per cent of their questions were on macroeconomics. The Liberal and Country parties, on the other hand, take a great interest in New South Wales. They asked 27 questions about New South Wales, compared with 25 questions on macroeconomic policy, excluding an incomes policy. I can, of course, understand. Most of the questions asked by the Liberal and Country parties were on frivolous or phoney matters.

Senator Boswell —I raise a point of order, Mr President. The Minister is using the wrong title for the National Party. It is the National Party, and I bring that to his attention.

The PRESIDENT —There is no point of order.

Senator WALSH —I do not want to be misunderstood. If Senator Boswell insists on its being the National Party, so be it. It is, however, known in my State as the National Country Party. It is known by various names and aliases. Most of the questions asked by the official Opposition were on phoney and frivolous matters.

Senator Chaney —Mr President, I take a point of order. The question in no way relates to the responsibilities of the Minister or of any Minister he represents in this place. The fact of the matter is that the Minister has done a great deal to sabotage Question Time by giving long lectures instead of answers. I ask you to keep him to the question and to ensure that he permits genuine questions to be asked in this place instead of farcical questions such as that asked by the senator from South Australia.

The PRESIDENT —Order! I did listen closely to the question. It did involve government administration. I ask the Minister to relate his remarks to the question and not debate the issues involved.

Senator WALSH —Very well, Mr President. I can understand the Opposition's reluctance to ask questions on economic issues. I have just noted its record on economic issues.

The PRESIDENT —I ask the Minister to relate his remarks to the question.

Senator WALSH —Yes, Mr President. Senator Maguire also asked me about an article in, I think, yesterday's Age. I had noticed yesterday's Age. I noticed that the discredited former Treasurer is not so reticent, or perhaps astute, as other members of the Opposition in this place, because in this article he is reported to have predicted that interest rates and unemployment would both go up in the next year. He is, of course, an expert on those matters because at the end of five years of his Treasurership unemployment and inflation were both above 10 per cent; unemployment at the highest level at which it had been for 50 years, and interest rates at the highest level they had ever been.

So one can sympathise with the reluctance to discuss economic policy. One can sympathise with the Opposition in general for still having as its economic spokesman a former Treasurer who, after five years, produced those results as the end result of his policy.