The words on the lips of Australians these days is "razor gang" -- and the words refer to Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser's budgets lashing Cabinet. The Prime Minister's men have been trying to cut "big government" down to size, slicing away at federal programs and trimming costs at national institutions.
Mr. Fraser was reelected last October after promising budget cuts, but many government-watchers had dismissed the pledge as campaign rhetoric. The government's true determination to pare down spending has emerged in just the past two months.
Mr. Fraser says his effort is the first in Australian history to examine expenditures exhaustively and then systematically reduce them. So far, the "razor gang" has:
*Pushed more responsibility for hospital funding onto the states. (States complain that patients' health care costs will rise as a result of this action.)
*Moved to put Trans-Australian Airlines, a government-owned domestic line onto the stock exchange. Public opinion polls show most Australians favor the move. The extent to which the government will continue its involvement in the airline has not been announced.
*Begun removing Australian Information Service representatives from foreign capitals. Within a few months Australia it will have no Information Service representatives even in the major capitals of Washington and London.
*Begun trimming its Foreign Ministry staff at Australia House in London. The staff in England will will cut by 230. Egually drastic cuts will be made in Washington and elsewhere.
Prime Minister Fraser says the measures will save taxpayers $650 million over two years; 17,000 government jobs will disappear. The opposition Labor Party and unions oppose the measures, saying they will lead to more strikes and increaed health-care costs. Opposition leader Bill Hayden says the actions are "a wholesa le slaughter of national responsibilities."