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Thursday, 5 March 2015
Page: 1324

Economy


Senator DASTYARI (New South Wales) (14:12): My question is to the minister representing the Treasurer, Senator Cormann. I refer to yesterday's national accounts, which recorded just 0.5 per cent growth for the December quarter. Does the government accept responsibility for the Australian economy's slow growth and rising unemployment?


Senator CORMANN (Western AustraliaMinister for Finance) (14:13): I thank Senator Dastyari for that question. The government accepts responsibility for everything we do.

Let me just say that we are in a stronger position now than we would have been if we had not made some of the changes over the last 18 months that we made. The economy in 2014 grew by 2.5 per cent compared to 1.9 per cent in the last year of Labor. Jobs in 2014 grew by about 600 a day, more than three times as much as under Labor. To be honest, the data in the national accounts yesterday was actually very promising in terms of the outlook moving forward.

Opposition senators interjecting

Senator CORMANN: I know that the Labor Party is only interested in talking down the economy. But let's look at some of the facts. The ASX 200 sits at around a seven-year high. Dwelling approvals are 9.1 per cent higher than a year ago. Retail trade numbers have now risen for eight consecutive months, while investment outside mining and manufacturing hit a record high of $62 billion in 2014, up 10.7 per cent on the year, the strongest calendar-year gain in seven years.

We have started to implement our Economic Action Strategy. We have started to get rid of all these bad Labor-Greens taxes—the carbon tax and the mining tax. We have reduced red tape costs for business by $2 billion a year. We have actually got out there to pursue a positive agenda to strengthen the economy and create more jobs—three new free trade agreements, with China, Japan, and South Korea. Everywhere you look we are making positive decisions: $1 trillion worth of environmental approvals. We know that all the Labor Party can do is be negative. The Labor Party are a bunch of knockers. They are not interested in the positive direction Australia is now going in, clearly, because all we can hear from the Labor Party is knock, knock, knock, knock. (Time expired)



Senator DASTYARI (New South Wales) (14:15): Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. I refer to Reserve Bank Board member Dr John Edwards, who says that the annual rate of growth 'is below the rate that is necessary to prevent a rise in unemployment'. Minister, is Dr Edwards right?


Senator CORMANN (Western AustraliaMinister for Finance) (14:15): That is manifestly true. Clearly, if we want to bring unemployment down, in the context of population growth, then we need about three per cent growth. What I am saying is that employment numbers are now growing faster than they were under you. We are heading in the right direction. We are making progress. Are we in the position that we would like to be in? No, we are not yet in the position we would like to be in. There is still more work to be done. But let me tell you, we are in a much better position than we would have been if the carbon tax, which you want to bring back, was still in place and if the mining tax, which you want to bring back, was still in place and if all that red tape that Senator Wong imposed on the Australian economy, which you want to bring back, was still in place.

This is a government that is getting on with the job, making sure that we are more competitive internationally and that we can strengthen economic growth. We are now on the right trajectory, whereas before we were on the wrong trajectory, and that is what matters. You can knock, knock, knock, but we are actually making progress. We are getting on with it— (Time expired)


Senator DASTYARI (New South Wales) (14:17): Mr President, I ask a further supplementary question, and I thank the minister for taking responsibility for rising unemployment and slowing growth. Can the minister confirm that under this government consumer confidence is down 10 per cent from election levels, capital expenditure has fallen 2.2 per cent in the December quarter, unemployment has hit a 12-year high of 6.4 per cent, and yesterday's national accounts demonstrate that GDP growth is entrenched below trend?


Senator CORMANN (Western AustraliaMinister for Finance) (14:17): The chutzpah of that question is unbelievable. At the end of six years of Labor government we inherited a weakening economy, rising unemployment, low consumer confidence and a bad budget position which was rapidly deteriorating. We are now in a stronger position than what we were, and these guys, because we have not fixed up six years of Labor mess, six years of Labor chaos and dysfunction, in 18 months, say, 'Look here: the economy's not growing strongly enough in order to absorb population growth'.

The PRESIDENT: Pause the clock.

Senator Dastyari: Mr President, a point order on relevance: I do not want to extend the chutzpah, but I clearly stated the question to ask whether or not he could confirm a series of figures. The minister has not addressed the question.

The PRESIDENT: The minister is certainly providing background relevant to the subject. I remind the minister of the question. He has 27 seconds in which to answer.

Senator CORMANN: Let me put it very slowly to you, Senator Dastyari. Under your government the country was heading in the wrong direction. The economy was weakening, unemployment was rising, consumer confidence was very low. We have actually turned the situation around. We are now heading in the right direction. Have we reached the destination yet that we ultimately want to get to? No. There is of course more work to be done. We still have to pass a whole range of structural reforms in the budget to help to strengthen economic growth further. (Time expired)