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Tuesday, 18 September 2001
Page: 27244

Senator WATSON (2:07 PM) —My question is directed to the Leader of the Government in the Senate, Senator Hill. Will the minister inform the Senate of new data that confirms the continued strong performance of the Australian economy under the responsible management of the Howard government? Is the minister aware of any alternative policy approaches?

Senator HILL (Minister for the Environment and Heritage) —I thank Senator Watson for the question. It is an important question because the Australian economy continues to perform strongly under the Howard government. Figures released last week show that the Australian economy—

Senator Schacht —Ask the 17,000 at Ansett.

Senator HILL —This is the point, Senator Schacht: there will always be corporate failures, but it is to a background where the overall economy continues to perform strongly. Last week's figures show that the economy grew by 0.9 per cent in the June quarter, building further on the strong growth recorded in the March quarter. This good news for the Australian economy has also been reflected in the jobs market. The August employment figures showed an increase of 77,300 jobs, including a remarkable 72,700 new full-time jobs. This result builds on this government's proud record on jobs. More than 880,000 new jobs have been created since we came to office. We have not forgotten the disastrous record of Labor in this regard—up to one million Australians unemployed. There is the contrast: under Labor, a million unemployed; under the coalition, a further 880,000 jobs. The economy continues to perform strongly because this government took the hard but correct decisions—something that the previous Labor government was never prepared to do. Instead, the previous Labor government simply ran up debt, leaving $80 billion of debt incurred in its last five years in office. If you cannot balance the books, you cannot make the investments necessary in areas like health, education, defence and so on.

We have shown as a government that we are able to balance the books and, at the same time, we have been able to deliver more money for public hospitals, more money for both government and non-government schools, more money for the environment—record investments in the environment—and more money for defence. We have been able to run five budget surpluses in a row. Most importantly, we have returned the fundamentals of the Australian economy to a position of strength. That strength helped Australia ride out the severe economic downturn that affected so many countries in our region. We know the global economy now faces a period of increased uncertainty in the wake of the terrorist attacks in the US. We have already seen some fallout on Wall Street overnight. But the Australian economy is still well placed because the fundamentals of our economy are strong. You certainly would not want to be entering this period with Labor's debt hanging around your neck. It is interesting that Australia's major employers share this sentiment. A recent article in the Business Review Weekly found that 81 per cent of chief executives think the coalition is a better manager of the economy—just five per cent back Labor. It is so important, if there is going to be a global downturn, who will manage—

Opposition senators interjecting

The PRESIDENT —Order! There are senators on my left shouting persistently. I would ask you to observe the standing orders.

The PRESIDENT —Senator Cook, I call you to order.

Senator HILL —The point I am making is that it is so much better to back a sound economic manager if there is going to be a global economic downturn. The article in the Business Review Weekly went on to say that the coalition is also regarded as being the safer bet if the Australian economy is affected by a global recession. Eighty-three per cent of respondents believe the Howard government would do a better job in an economic downturn. Only six per cent favoured Labor. If there is going to be a period of global economic downturn, there is no doubt who the better economic manager is. You have only got to compare the last five years with the previous five years, and the Australian people will know whom to back.