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Wednesday, 15 February 2012
Page: 1402


Mr MITCHELL (McEwen) (14:45): My question is to the Minister for Climate Change and Energy Efficiency, and the Minister for Industry and Innovation. Why is it important to maintain confidence in the economy and support Australian jobs across Australian industry? And are there any threats to this?

Mr COMBET (Charlton—Minister for Climate Change and Energy Efficiency and Minister for Industry and Innovation) (14:45): I would like to thank the member for McEwen for his question. The fundamentals of our economy are very strong. It is important to maintain confidence in the face of the pressures from global forces. That is why it is very important that the increase in business confidence, reported in the latest NAB business survey, is very welcome. That confidence is based upon the fact that we have low unemployment, solid economic growth, a moderate inflationary environment and low public debt. Importantly, that confidence is reflected in massive business investment that will be coming into our economy this year and in years to come.

According to ABS data, almost $150 billion of private investment this year is expected, with over $450 billion in the pipeline from the resources sector alone in coming years. All of this is very good news for jobs. One aspect of our economy that is perhaps less well understood is that performance of the economy in areas other than resources is also supporting jobs. For example, exports of services to China have grown at an annual rate of about 20 per cent over the last decade. In fact, China is Australia's biggest export market for services and it became so in 2009-10. Despite the big increases in coal exports and their prices over recent years, Australia in fact earned more from providing tourism, education and other services to China last year than it did from selling coal. That is something not well understood. It is evidence of the flexibility of the economy and the strength of the policymaking that has set the parameters right.

But on the other side of politics we see constant talking down of the economy and an undermining of confidence. The opposition looks for any opportunity to undermine confidence and create uncertainty. We saw it here again in question time and we saw it earlier this morning, with the opposition claiming Alcoa's decision to delay a $3 billion expansion of their Western Australian alumina refinery was due to the carbon price. That is wrong. This dishonest claim was in tatters within hours. Alcoa have made it very clear that securing a gas supply was the principal driver of the delay in that project.

Dishonest fear campaigns harm our economy and harm jobs. On this side we are building the foundations for a strong economic future, meeting the challenges and creating the opportunities for people, because that is what Labor does.