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Monday, 30 August 1993
Page: 466

Senator HILL —My question is directed to the Leader of the Government in the Senate. Why should the Australian people not see the government's watering down of this year's budget as confirmation that the budget was indeed an act of bastardry? If the Prime Minister is serious about addressing the community outrage over the aggressive taxes in the budget, why does he not simply stand by his commitment to the Australian people not to increase taxation?

Senator GARETH EVANS —This is a caring and responsible government, and we are always prepared to respond in a caring and responsible way when particular groups in the community make a strong case as to the effect of particular measures. We are prepared to reconsider some of those measures, provided that can be done in a fiscally responsible way. It is absolutely crucial for the effective management of this country and the interests of everybody in it that we continue to govern in a fiscally responsible way.

  It is crucially important that we not go to the people promising to do things like increase the deficit in 1993-94 by $1.4 million, or saying that we are prepared to increase that deficit by $3 billion in 1996-97, which is something like 50 per cent on top of what we have undertaken to do. There is a very dramatic difference between the degree of responsibility that we have brought to these budget decisions and these budget discussions and that totally irresponsible, opportunistic approach which has been brought to that debate and so obviously and crassly stated in the parliament by the opposition leadership.

Senator HILL —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. The minister might think it is legitimate to laugh at those who are particularly hurt by his regressive taxation, but what does he say, therefore, to those who made investment decisions last week on the basis of the government's assurances that the budget was not a negotiating document? Having lied to the Australian people before the election and further betrayed them by the budget, is it not about time that this government started telling the truth?

Senator GARETH EVANS —I have already made it clear that the document is not a negotiating document in the terms in which Senator Hill has tried to portray it. There is a situation, which I have indicated, where some particular measures might appropriately require some re-evaluation as a result of discussions that have occurred and that are ongoing. But that is a very distant thing from saying that this budget that we have put down as a responsible act of government economic decision making is a negotiating document.

  It is a tough budget certainly, because times are tough and the need is obviously there for the fiscal discipline and the monetary discipline that is associated with that, and we accept that particular responsibility. But to make the judgment that we have that there are some changes that need to be made as a result of the particular impact of measures that have been the subject of public debate is not for a moment to concede that henceforth in this country budgets should be regarded as simply open for negotiation, an opening salvo in an exchange, rather than something which represents a considered statement of responsible government policy. That is the position we will adhere to.