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Thursday, 12 September 1996
Page: 3395

Senator FAULKNER —My question is directed to the Assistant Treasurer. Minister, in answer to a question on the dental health program yesterday Senator Newman—and I quote her directly—said this:

. . . funding runs until the end of December this year, so it is for 3½ years that we are honouring that commitment to that program.

Government senators interjecting

Senator FAULKNER —The previous day—

The PRESIDENT —Order! Senator Faulkner, I will ask you to start again in a moment, because it is not possible to hear you.

Senator Short —I raise a point of order, Madam President. I have not heard one word of what Senator Faulkner has said. If you would not mind asking him when he reads it perhaps to hold his head up so I might hear what he is saying.

Senator Cook —On the point of order, Madam President, if Senator Short would prevail on his colleagues to observe decorum in this chamber he might hear, because Senator Faulkner is talking quite loudly.

The PRESIDENT —There is no point of order. Senator Faulkner, when we have quiet, I will ask you to start your question again.

Senator FAULKNER —Thank you, Madam President. Yesterday, in answer to a question on the dental health program, Senator Newman—and I quote her directly—said:

. . . the funding runs until the end of December this year, so it is for 3½ years that we are honouring that commitment to that program.

She also said the previous day that it `was a finite four-year program'. Minister, can you explain to the Senate why the health portfolio budget statement records savings—from a program which, according to Senator Newman, ends this year—to the tune of $112.84 million in 1997-98, $114.53 million in 1998-99, and $116.48 million in 1999-2000—a total of $343.85 million? Minister, are these phantom savings which corrupt the budget bottom line, or was Senator Newman just plain wrong again?

Senator SHORT —First of all, let me say that questions concerning the health portfolio ought to be directed to the appropriate minister. Secondly, let me say in response to Senator Faulkner's question that the answers that Senator Newman provided to questions yesterday or perhaps the day before were, as I understand it, absolutely right. I have not one word to add to or detract from what Senator Newman said.

I thought that I heard Senator Faulkner say something about corrupting the budget bottom line. For someone from that side who was in government for 13 years to talk about corrupting the budget and corrupting the budget bottom line is hypocrisy of the greatest order.

Senator Sherry —Madam President, on a point of order: Senator Short has already indicated that he cannot answer the question. He should sit down if he cannot answer it—yet again.

The PRESIDENT —There is no point of order.

Senator SHORT —Quite obviously, Labor cannot take it. They cannot take it because they know in their heart of hearts that they corrupted the budget process right through their years in office. Over the last five years alone they corrupted the budget bottom line by $70 billion—stuck it on Bankcard—and ran up debts of $100 billion a year by the time they had left government. The interest bill on that alone this year is over $9 billion. That is not much less than what we are spending on defence and education as a Commonwealth government.

Now the Leader of the Opposition, supported by Gareth Evans—although you never know where he stands on these things, and you never hear from the shadow minister for finance—is proposing a further corruption of the budget bottom line of $18.8 billion over the next four years, which will blow the nation's accounts out of the water even more than they have been blown out of the water in the last 13 years of Labor incompetence and mismanagement.

Senator Bob Collins —Madam President, on a point of order: I am one senator who would like to hear the answer to the question. The question to the Assistant Treasurer was whether an amount of close to $400 million—

Senator SHORT —I have answered it.

Senator Bob Collins —No, you have not. The question was whether that amount which is in the budget papers, for which the Assistant Treasurer is responsible in this chamber, is fake savings or real savings.

The PRESIDENT —As stated by Senator Collins, that was the question but it did include in the concluding remarks a reference to the corruption of the budget bottom line. It would seem that Senator Short is spending more of his time on that than the former part, but he would be entitled to do so. There is no point of order.

Senator SHORT —I answered the question in the first minute of my answer, and the answer to the question was that the details that were provided by Senator Newman yesterday, and I think the day before—but certainly in the detailed answers she gave yesterday—were absolutely correct and require no further amplification or detraction one way or the other. That is what I said the first time round.

Senator FAULKNER —Madam President, I ask a supplementary question. We have heard that the Commonwealth dental health program is apparently a non-existent program. Minister, how do you extract savings from a non-existent program?

Senator SHORT —As I said before—and Senator Faulkner obviously is not listening—in my opinion Senator Newman answered the question absolutely accurately and comprehensively yesterday. I have nothing further to add.