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Wednesday, 1 April 1998
Page: 2114

Mr NAIRN —My question is addressed to the Treasurer. Can the Treasurer inform the House of the retail trade figures for February released this morning? What does the trend indicate about the government's economic policy and the outlook for the current account deficit?

Mr COSTELLO (Treasurer) —I thank the honourable member for Eden-Monaro for his question. You may be aware that retail trade figures for February released this morning show that retail trade has been growing at a trend rate of about 0.3 per cent a month since November, and has risen by a very healthy 4.3 per cent over the year to February. Seasonally adjusted figures in February, whilst showing a one per cent fall, taken together with a 1.9 per cent increase in January show a total growth of 0.9 per cent over the two months. Trend data continues to point to a healthy but not excessive growth in private consumption.

I indicated yesterday in the House that, in relation to the current account deficit, where Australia faces adverse external challenges in relation to exports, one of the advantages we have in relation to the cyclical position on the current account is that demand in the domestic economy is sustainable. A healthy consumption growth, while not too excessive, taken together with good inflation and a budget moving into surplus, means that Australia has a sustainable position in relation to its current account as well.

I think most people will acknowledge the fact that good retail figures have been driven by the low interest rate policy of this government, including benefits now starting to flow to business lenders, with margins coming down in relation to business overdrafts. As far as the government is concerned, the issues that are of concern to the Australian public are still the issues of concern to this government.

We are interested in families and delivering benefits to families. You won't get much interest from the Labor Party about that. We are interested in the tax system and in a decent debate about tax and how we can improve the Australian taxation system. You won't get much talk out of the Labor Party over that. We are interested in bringing down Australia's debt and making our waterfront more productive, but you won't get question from the Labor Party over that. We are interested in low home rates for Australian mortgage payers, but you don't get much interest from the Australian Labor Party in that.

Here you have a campaign by the Australian Labor Party trawling through the trash cans, doing everything they can to keep the debate off issues of national importance. As far as the government is concerned, we will get on with good government. We will get on with delivering benefits to Australian families and we will get on with helping home buyers.