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Monday, 8 May 1989
Page: 1964

Senator CALVERT —How does the Minister for Immigration, Local Government and Ethnic Affairs believe that local councils throughout Australia will absorb the $56m reduction in general purpose assistance grants for the next three years which were announced in the recent economic statement? Does the Minister agree that the only result of these cuts, and also the $1m which has been slashed from general purpose assistance grants, is a massive rate hike or a curtailment in council services? Would local government be correct in interpreting these cuts as a massive slap in the face and a total contradiction of assurances which the Minister for Immigration, Local Government and Ethnic Affairs gave representatives of the Australian Local Government Association when they met him in Canberra on Monday, 10 April?

Senator ROBERT RAY —It is true that a whole series of restraints is required not only by the Commonwealth Government and the State governments but also by local government. Part of the ambition of this Government, when restraint is required, is to ensure that all groups share in that restraint so that it does not fall on just one group or another. That applies not only to government but also to any group in society. Over recent years, local government has done fairly well out of funding from the Commonwealth level and many councils will do particularly well by the decision not to pursue the claw-back issue in relation to the rating of Telecom Australia and Australia Post. Many local government areas will be quite well off.

It is typical, I suppose, of Opposition senators to tell us in every Budget that they want another $4 billion or $5 billion worth of cuts. The problem is that they do not ever nominate the area that they want cut. They always favour cutting government expenditure but can never nominate the area that should be cut. When all of the whinges and complaints about the areas that should be cut are added up, billions of dollars are involved. The real problem is not for the Government to resolve; it is for Opposition senators to resolve in their own minds. How can the Opposition be in favour of reduced government expenditure when, in every case in which it occurs, the Opposition gets up in this place and whinges?

Senator CALVERT —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. I will ask the last part of my question again. Did the Minister give the Australian Local Government Association assurances on Monday, 10 April, that there would not be any cuts in local government funding?

Senator ROBERT RAY —Is Senator Calvert referring to me personally?

Senator Calvert —The Minister for Local Government.

Senator ROBERT RAY —I was not present through the whole of that particular meeting. I think that was one of the occasions when Senator Reynolds was not in fact there; I think that was the start of her back injury. I personally made it quite clear that I would give no commitment whatsoever. Other people, including the Prime Minister and another Minister, were present at different parts of the meeting. But, if Senator Calvert is asking me personally, I gave no such indication; absolutely not.