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Thursday, 30 May 1996
Page: 1444

Senator SHERRY (Deputy Leader of the Opposition in the Senate)(3.03 p.m.) —I move:

That the Senate take note of the answer given by the Assistant Treasurer (Senator Short), to a question without notice asked by Senator Sherry today, relating to the economy.

Today in question time I raised the issue of the alleged black hole, which the government now seems quite determined not to mention. We did take a trip through space led by Captain Short of the Enterprise .

Senator Abetz —I raise a point of order. Could Senator Sherry get his processes right and tell us which answer he wants to take note of?

The PRESIDENT —He did, but for Senator Abetz you might like to just repeat that.

Senator SHERRY —I will repeat it for Senator Abetz; he obviously was not listening. I did refer in my introductory remarks to the answer to my question from Senator Short with respect to the alleged $8 billion black hole, a term that they do not seem to want to mention any more, particularly following the release of the growth figures yesterday.

Following the release of the 4.8 per cent growth figures over the March quarter 1995 to the March quarter 1996, it was interesting to note what was said today in the radio commentary by Mr Argus—I am sure he is close to many in the Liberal government—of the National Australia Bank. On ABC Radio's AM program, Mr Argus said:

We've just thrown our crystal ball out the window and we've got some work to do in understanding some of the components of the accounts.

He also said that the figures and the strength of the economy could mean that the government may not have to make cuts of $8 billion over the next two years. He said:

If there's this sort of growth in the economy that would be a fair assumption.

So we have none other than Mr Argus—

Senator Bob Collins —That's Australia's biggest bank.

Senator SHERRY —Yes, from Australia's biggest bank, an individual who is very close to the Liberal Party, making that statement. We gave Senator Short an opportunity today, after his loud assertions in this place about the alleged $8 billion budget deficit, on the basis of the national account figures yesterday, to admit that he was wrong; that the forecast—and I stress the word forecast—of an $8 billion deficit will not occur.

We then gave him the opportunity, but he did not retract or retreat, although I note that he used the words: `these matters are open for revision'. I wonder what that means in the double-speak Star Trek language of the government. I asked Senator Short whether he would resign when the budget figures are released in August if there is not an $8 billion deficit and he is wrong. He is continually asserting that there is an $8 billion deficit so if he firmly believes, even in the face of mounting, new evidence over the last few months, that it is not correct, he should put his job on the line. But all he could say was, `These matters are open for revision.' What matters are open for revision, Senator Short?

He is not listening to this debate. It is interesting that yesterday, in the time for taking note of answers, Senator Short did not speak at all; he got Senator Hill, the Government Leader in the Senate to defend his position—even though he was in the chamber.

This latest figure on the economic growth is yet another figure in a good succession of ABS statistics. We have only to look at our inflation rate—amongst the lowest in the OECD now; we have good economic growth with low inflation; we look at the job growth; we have had four years of economic growth; we look at productivity improvement, research and development and taxation levels. The government is fond of talking about taxation levels: we are the second lowest taxed country in the OECD—I think Turkey is the only one lower. Interestingly, in the expenditure area, we are second last or last in the OECD, depending on your methodology.

So why is the government pursuing this so-called black hole? What we have here is a government determined to implement an ideological agenda—Fightback. It was never withdrawn. It was never dead and buried. It is Fightback all over again and Senator Short is in the embarrassing position in representing the government. Because the government does not have enough money to pay for its election promises, it is embarking upon an ideological cutback of government programs, an ideological cutback of government employment and is also engaged in finding money to pay for its election promises.