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Monday, 24 May 1999
Page: 5144

Senator GIBSON —My question without notice is addressed to Senator Hill, the Leader of the Government in the Senate. Is the minister aware of an article in the Australian Financial Review of 21 May, which stated:

Australian companies are experiencing their strongest profit growth in four years, triggering upgrades in investment forecasts and raising hopes that the economy could expand faster than official forecasts throughout the rest of 1999.

Will the minister inform the Senate what this strong growth means for the government's efforts to reduce unemployment? Is the minister aware of any further information which would support such a confident outlook for the Australian economy?

Senator HILL (Environment and Heritage) —We are pleased with the results of the reforms that we have been able to introduce to date—the positive benefits to unemployment and the benefits in terms of economic growth. They have not come easily; they have required hard but fair decisions which, in particular, have reeled in the high deficit regime of the past and the debt created by Labor. In the first term of government we turned the deficit into a surplus, and we started to repay the $80 billion of accumulated deficit built up by the Labor Party in just its last five years of government. Within three years we were able to start repaying that debt.

The benefits to the Australian people that have flowed from that reform have been that interest rates are now at their lowest levels for 30 years and that inflation continues to run at under two per cent, which is again the best result in some 30 years. So significant benefits have flowed from the reforms that this government has been able to institute, despite the continuing opposition of the Australian Labor Party.

The benefits of these reforms, as Senator Gibson said, are being recognised internationally. Just last week the OECD acknowledged Australia's strong economic performance and projected that Australia would remain among the fastest growing economies in the world. Against this background, it is not surprising to see today's results from the national survey of business expectations, conducted by the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry. The results of the survey for the June quarter show a continuation in the upward trend in business confidence. Business confidence continues to grow. The survey says:

Looking forward towards the coming quarter, it is quite clear business expects an improvement in economic conditions. This is particularly evident in the results for sales and, importantly, in regard to our exports.

This positive outlook is supported by another increase in the latest Westpac Melbourne Institute index of consumer sentiment. According to Westpac, the increase in consumer confidence suggests a positive reaction to the government's budget. The continuing strong performance of the Australian economy is good news for all Australians looking for work.

It is worth reminding Senator Bolkus that, since the Howard government came to office, good economic management has helped to create—

Opposition senators interjecting

The PRESIDENT —Order! There are far too many senators on my left interjecting.

Senator HILL —Good economic management has helped to create more than 400,000 new jobs. I previously informed the Senate of the positive job outlook for employment growth recorded by the Morgan and Banks job index survey and the ANZ job vacancy figures. Last week the department of employment skilled vacancy survey for May showed another increase in the number of skilled vacancies. They are now at their highest level since December 1989—in other words, the highest level since before the recession that Mr Keating and the Labor Party gave us.

With those expectations, it is not surprising that the hopes for unemployed Australians continue to rise. There are 400,000 new jobs, the lowest rates of unemployment since before the Keating recession of 1990 and the highest rates of skilled vacancies now giving confidence to the unemployed. It demonstrates that if governments take the reform path, take the hard decisions, put in place the processes that are necessary, good benefits for all Australian can flow. (Time expired)