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Monday, 1 June 1998
Page: 4268

Mr CAUSLEY —My question is directed to the Treasurer. Can the Treasurer report on outcomes from the APEC finance ministers conference in Canada last week? What steps are being taken to support economies now in distress from financial instability and economic downturn?

Mr Martin Ferguson —Ring the bell!

Mr Brereton —Ding, ding, ding!

Mr COSTELLO (Treasurer) —I am pleased you are all watching; I like to entertain you. Small things amuse small minds and we like to keep you entertained.

Mr SPEAKER —Could I suggest that the members of the opposition will remain silent or I will be ringing the bell.

Mr COSTELLO —In fact, we will keep you entertained in opposition for a very long period of time. Can I report, in answer to the question from the member for Page, for which I thank him, that this was a very successful APEC meeting in Canada. All of the economies of the APEC region were represented, including those that have visitor status and will be admitted at the next meeting: Russia, Peru and Vietnam.

As you would expect, the main topic of the conference was financial instability in the Asian region and its working out into the real economy. It is estimated that the Korean economy could contract by 3.8 per cent through the year to March 1998 and the Malaysian economy by 1.8 per cent through the year to March 1998. Hong Kong's econ omy contracted by two per cent through the year to March, and this gave it the first negative growth in 13 years, while in the Philippines economic growth slowed to 1.7 per cent.

It is becoming increasingly clear that a large part of the problem in the Asian region was insufficient financial sector regulation and the difficulty in separating the financial sector from the corporate sector. As a result, discussions focused on strengthening financial regulation in financial sectors and improving corporate governance. The Australian government has been in the forefront of reforms in these areas with the new wave of legislation introducing the Wallis recommendations which will ensure that Australia has world's best practice in relation to financial regulation. The Australian government has been in the forefront of corporate governance issues with its corporate law economic reform program, which is designed to strengthen Australia's corporate law and give it a stronger economic focus.

After discussions in Canada, the Australian government was able to offer to play a central role in new programs directed at improving the training of regulators in banking and securities sectors in the Asia-Pacific region. The Australian Securities Commission and the Reserve Bank will be involved in helping to run seminars to improve training standards, contributing to regional training efforts through institutions such as the South-East Asian Central Banks Research and Training Centre and the Asia-Pacific Regional Committee of the International Organisation of Securities Commissions. We will be contributing with better coordinating regional and bilateral training efforts and we will be improving the training culture in national financial sector regulatory agencies.

As a result of the steps that we have taken to strengthen the Australian economy in the face of the external challenge, Australia is one of the economies in the Asia-Pacific region which is now experiencing continued growth. I also pay tribute to the hard-edged but helpful man behind me on my right, the Minister for Trade, who has spearheaded Australia's introduction to new export markets and has spearheaded a very successful trade strategy that Australia should be concentrating on markets not just in the immediate region.

With the external challenge of the nature and the dimension that it now is in the Asia-Pacific region, it is imperative that Australia continue to deliver good economic policies, sound budget settings, low inflation, low interest rates, reduction of government debt—the policies which this government has been putting in place to strengthen the Australian economy against the external challenge. Now is not the time to depart from good economic policy. Now is not the time to listen to the misguided and ignorant populism of the Australian Labor Party. Now is the time to develop strong economic policy to protect Australia from an external challenge and to make sure the basis of the Australian economy is kept strong.