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Monday, 24 May 2004
Page: 28825

Mr BAIRD (3:57 PM) —I move:

That this House:

(1) commends the Government and the Treasurer on the strong performance of the Australian economy, in particular:

(a) the strong rate of growth of the Australian economy which is currently running at 4%;

(b) the low rate of inflation, currently just 2.4%; and

(c) the low unemployment rate, currently just 5.7%; and

(2) recognises that the Government has, through careful economic management, given the Australian economy the strength to withstand:

(a) the Asian Economic Crisis of 1997-1998; and

(b) the slowing of the world economy and the recession in the United States of America in 2001-2002; and

(3) understands that the Government has, through effective government policies:

(a) overseen the creation of more than 1.3 million jobs since this government came to office;

(b) achieved a massive reduction of mortgage interest rates, which were 17.1% under Labor and are currently just 6.5% under this government; and

(c) has achieved the repayment of more than $67 billion of Labor's debt.

It is in the area of economic management that the contrast between Labor and the coalition is at its starkest. The economic policies of the Latham-Crean opposition are unknown, untested and unresolved. What we do know is that they do not have high priorities in the opposition. Reading books to your children and soft options are the province of the Leader of the Opposition, but it is in the tough area of economic management that the Australian community looks to the federal government to ensure that employment is kept high and inflation and interest rates are kept low, and to ensure that we do not accumulate excessive government debt.

We have been fortunate in this country to have the Howard-Costello team to manage the economy—to make the tough decisions, to implement the GST, to ensure that we repaid the $70 billion of debt that the previous Labor government incurred and to ensure that the growth rate of this country is amongst the highest of the OECD countries. To return to the days of Whitlam—a particular hero of the Leader of the Opposition—when government debt ballooned, when fundamentals of strong economic management disappeared out the window and interest and inflation rates leapt alarmingly, would be a tragedy for this country.

These things do not happen by chance. Despite the challenge of the economic downturn in Asia, September 11, October 12 and SARS, Australia's economy remains amongst the best performing in the world. Currently, the national rate of economic growth for this financial year stands strong at 3.75 per cent, despite the worldwide economic downturn. If we look at some of the key indicators, the success of the Treasurer and the contrast with Labor becomes significant. During the eight years of coalition government, growth has never gone below 1.4 per cent. However, under the Labor government of the early nineties, we saw rates at three per cent. In terms of the OECD growth rates for the December quarter 2003, we rank No. 3 amongst OECD members and are only surpassed by Korea and Japan.

Our inflation rates have remained low and are currently running at two per cent. We are now seeing the slowest rise in the cost of living in four years. This is a good indicator of a strong economy, which is right within the Treasurer's target range. Inflation is expected to remain low in the medium term, with the government target being between two and three per cent. During Labor's time in government, inflation peaked at 11.1 per cent and averaged 5.2 per cent. Under the Howard government, unemployment dropped to 5.6 per cent—the lowest it had been in 23 years. Our current 5.7 per cent unemployment rate is a great example of good management and job creation. The Labor government in 1992 saw these figures peak at 10.9 per cent, with there being almost one million Australians out of work.

Our response to the Asian crisis has left our nation in the best possible shape, when considering other nations in the region. Japan, one of the fastest growing economies in the region before the crisis, has been left decimated with just over 0.2 per cent economic growth for last year. Australia reported over 3.5 per cent growth for the 2003 calendar year, placing us amongst the fastest growing nations in the Pacific Rim. Despite a clear and obvious downturn in the world economy, Australia has managed to weather the storm very well.

Job creation has been a top priority for this government. In six months, the government has managed to create more jobs—in fact, twice as many jobs as Labor managed to create in its last six years in government. Through the creation of more than 1.3 million new jobs since 1996, the unemployment rate has been reduced from 8.2 per cent to 5.7 per cent. By contrast, the Labor government in 1992 saw unemployment rates peak at 10.9 per cent, with there being almost one million Australians out of work. In the last 12 months 260,000 new jobs have been created, 85 per cent of which are full time. This takes the current employment rate down to 5.6 per cent, which is the lowest unemployment rate in 23 years.

When the coalition came to government mortgage interest rates were at 10.5 per cent; currently they are at 7.05 per cent. This results in an interest saving of $545 each month on the average new mortgage. Since coming to power, the coalition has managed to keep mortgage interest rates to an average of 7.15 per cent. Under Labor control, we saw this figure average at 12.75 per cent and peak at 17 per cent. The coalition's assistance to first home buyers by way of a $7,000 grant cannot go unmentioned. Then of course there is the question of Labor's debt: $96 billion. (Time expired)

The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Jenkins)—Is the motion seconded?

Mr Bartlett —I second the motion.