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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 1998 Week 3 Hansard (27 May) . . Page.. 629 ..

MR SMYTH (continuing):

The shift to accrual accounting and output-based budgeting two years ago has now clearly laid out for the Canberra community the true cost of government, of their activities, and the magnitude of the budget task that falls upon this Assembly, and in particular this Government.

It is also worth remembering, Mr Speaker, that much of the recent election campaign centred upon the issue of responsible financial management. I think that the voters of Canberra were offered a very clear choice. The Labor Party promised that they would spend - they would spend money they did not have - and they would put off debt repayments, and they pretended there was this mythical $112m cash reserve that we all know does not exist. This $112m was squirreled away somewhere within the budget. The Labor Party promised to increase, not to decrease, the operating loss. I note Mr Osborne's point that, on the day we were all sworn in in this place, they promised not to be an opposition for opposition's sake. I quite look forward to seeing how they believe we should address the operating loss.

By contrast, Mr Speaker, we Canberra Liberals limited our election promises to just over $6m. They were not just promises; they were fully-funded promises. We Canberra Liberals promised to reduce the Government's operating loss. We will continue to work towards a reduction in that loss throughout this term and any other terms that the people of Canberra seek to give us. The people of Canberra voted for responsible financial management. What they voted for was a reduction in the operating loss. What they voted for was the continued repayment of debt. What they did not vote for was Labor's "Let us put it off to the future" ideas.

Mr Speaker, this Government acknowledges that the current budgeted operating loss, if it continues in the longer term, will inhibit the future financial wellbeing of the Canberra community. That is not something that we will do. However, finding the means to reduce the Territory's operating loss is a major challenge for this Government. The solutions adopted could have significant implications for the physical form, the shape and the future development and redevelopment of Canberra.

These are very serious issues, Mr Speaker. We all know the history, but it is worth restating it. The large reductions in funding from the Commonwealth over recent years have certainly made the task of decreasing our Territory's operating loss more difficult. Yet this Government is committed to ensuring that real reductions are found and are factored into the Territory's budget. If you go back to the 1995-96 consolidated operating statement for the Territory, Mr Speaker, you will find there an operating loss of $344m. In 1996-97 the loss has been reduced to $153m. The latest estimates show that a similar outcome is predicted for the 1997-98 budget. The Government's initiatives to date have already provided for a positive impact on the budgeted operating position and0 we will continue to do that. To date there has been a concerted effort to reduce administrative overheads and realise other operational efficiency gains, which will have a significant and sustainable impact on the bottom line, whilst ensuring that the level of service delivery is maintained.

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