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Tax carrots offered Australian voters

The Australian government has introduced a series of tax cuts and business incentives as part of its election-campaign budget package. The tax cuts are aimed mainly at low- and middle-income earners, while the business incentives are aimed at the largest corporations. There are also substantial gains in spending on social services, education, and defense.

The only new tax of any substance is a 10 percent sales tax on wine - designed to allay criticism from the heavily taxed beer industry.

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Most of the changes are to take effect Nov. 1 - and the government will almost certainly call an early federal election in late November or early December. The tax cuts are worth about $7.60 (Australian) a week for most workers, and are in line with recommendations made to the government by the Australian Council of Trade Unions.

They are meant to compensate workers for agreeing with the labor government's ''wages and prices accord,'' which will mean no general increase in wages before about next April. Despite the tax cuts, Australian Treasurer Paul Keating was able to announce a substantial reduction in the deficit, down to $6.75 billion in the new budget, from $7.96 billion.

Mr. Keating asserted that the budget would result in a further reduction in unemployent and inflation. During his hour-long budget speech in Parliament, he said that in the year and a half since Labor came to office, Australia had ''undergone a transformation.'' He said that in the past 12 months economic growth had been more than 10 percent, the fastest-growing economy in the Western world, while inflation was now running at about 5 percent, instead of the 11 percent rate when the government was elected.

''Our strategy this financial year,'' Keating said, ''will be to continue with the cooperative approach pioneered last year and to consolidate and build upon these achievements. We have the policies to overturn the history of more than a decade, a history of economic stops and starts, of recoveries that were frittered away in one senseless, destructive price and wage round after another.''

The new budget was generally well received by business and trade union leaders, and in the news media.

Rupert Murdoch's national newspaper, the Australian, which takes a strongly conservative political line, headlined its front-page report on the budget: ''Something for everyone. Tax cuts all round as (Prime Minister Robert) Hawke gears up for an early election.''

It editorialized ''An encouraging and sensible budget,'' concluding, ''If the unions continue to behave responsibly, then the government will have indeed turned the tide of our indifferent economic history, and brought prosperity to a growing number of Australians.''

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