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Monday, 17 June 1996
Page: 1584

Senator FAULKNER —My question is directed to Senator Short, the Assistant Treasurer. Minister, when the Treasurer offered the states $619 million new money if they would accept removal of the exemption on sales tax, wasn't he really offering the $619 million agreed at the previous Premiers Conference, and included in the forward estimates? I ask you: was the Victorian Treasurer, Mr Stockdale, right when he stated categorically that this was a broken Howard promise? Further, would you agree with the South Australian Premier when he said that this whole episode was `dishonest'?

Senator SHORT —The fact is that the outcome, which is the important thing—

Senator Cook —Try telling the truth, Jim.

Senator Bolkus —What about the question, Jim? Don't you know the answer?

Senator SHORT —Do you want to hear the answer or not? The outcome of the Premiers Conference last week has been seen by the Commonwealth, the premiers and the territory leaders as highly satisfactory for all concerned. Unlike Labor opposite and unlike you, Senator Faulkner, whose ranks within the left are apparently now so divided that you have not a clue which way you are going on these matters even as a faction, let alone as a party for which you are supposed to be the Leader of the Opposition in the Senate, the fact of the matter is that there was a very satisfactory outcome, a cooperative outcome, on the part of all the Commonwealth and state leaders.

Senator Faulkner —Do you agree with Mr Stockdale? Do you agree with Mr Brown?

Senator SHORT —You are behind the times yet again, Senator Faulkner. You are talking about a situation that did not eventuate in the outcome of the Premiers Conference. So far as the particular comments by Mr Stockdale and the South Australian Premier are concerned, I do not agree that there were broken promises involved, for precisely the sorts of reasons that I have given in answer to the earlier question. That is an academic issue now because, after some very sensible—sure, it was pretty spirited and I am sure it was pretty heavy—negotiations between all parties, they arrived at a result which was a very satisfactory bottom line for the Commonwealth and an arrangement that was well accepted by all the premiers.

That is why the press communique at the end of the conference says that the Commonwealth, states and territories have agreed that the real per capita indexation arrangements for financial assistance grants will be extended to 1998-99. That is a very positive advance for the states. It is a very positive and satisfactory outcome for them. The statement also makes the point, the very welcome point that I have kept saying today, that the states and the territories will be making payments to the Commonwealth over each of the next three years. It also makes the very important statement, which has not been widely reported, that `the need for these payments to be made by the states and territories will be reviewed annually at future Premiers Conferences in the light of the Commonwealth's fiscal position'.

This is unlike what your party did in its 13 years of government. It came in and tried to hit the states on the head with a sledgehammer. It was not prepared to negotiate with the states. We were, and we achieved a very satisfactory outcome for all concerned. That ought to be a matter for welcoming and acknowledgment on your part, not the dismal response that you have given to an outcome that is very good for the future of this country.

Senator FAULKNER —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. Minister, you indicated that you did not agree with Mr Stockdale's comments. I ask you: do you believe the Victorian Liberal Treasurer was lying when he described Mr Costello's offer as a broken Howard promise?

Senator SHORT —Mr President, on behalf of the Treasurer of Victoria, I take great exception to that allegation that Senator Faulkner has made. I would ask you to ask him to withdraw such a slur against one of the greatest treasurers of any state that this nation has ever seen.

The PRESIDENT —There is no reason to withdraw. He was asking whether you thought he was a liar. He was not saying that he is a liar.

Senator SHORT —Mr President, I defer to you, but I repeat the point that Alan Stockdale, the Treasurer of Victoria, is one of the greatest treasurers of any state in the history of this nation. He has done what we in government are doing, that is, trying to get the finances of a bankrupt Labor government back into balance. (Time expired)