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Wednesday, 10 February 1999
Page: 2339

Mr PYNE —My question is addressed to the Treasurer. Has the Treasurer seen the results of any surveys on the Australian economy? How do they reflect on the healthy state of the Australian economy?

Mr COSTELLO (Treasurer) —I thank the honourable member for Sturt for his question. I was interested to see the National Bank's monthly business survey for January, which was released I believe yesterday. It shows that business conditions improved for the sixth consecutive month in trend terms, all components of business conditions improved, business confidence remains at extremely high levels and has now returned to the high levels recorded prior to the Asian financial crisis.

The chief economist of the National Australia Bank, Mr Allan Oster, said in this survey:

The National's latest business survey suggests a strengthening trend in economic activity evident in recent months was maintained in early 1999. Looking ahead, the domestic economy has enough momentum to continue expanding strongly for at least six months.

The Prime Minister has already referred to the Morgan and Banks survey which was released today. The quarterly Morgan and Banks job index released today says:

. . . employers are exhibiting extremely high levels of optimism, with over one-third saying they will put on staff in the next three months and only 12 per cent saying they will downsize, giving a net effect of 23.6 per cent, the highest level of confidence in the economy since the job index commenced.

Whilst I may not actually say it myself, I note that the headline was `Phenomenal Job Growth Predicted from Morgan and Banks'. Even outside the Australian Labor Party, which will not admit the government's success in economic management because it has opposed nearly every step that was necessary to get it there, there have been important recognitions from other elements which are opposed to the government in relation to the government's economic management.

I was interested to see the ACTU's living wage submission to the national wage case bench. I thought I would quote from it, because it is so rare that I agree with the ACTU. In fact this could be the last time I agree with the ACTU this millennium. The ACTU said:

Australia has worked its way through the crisis and is in good shape and with sound fundamentals to weather any future storms form Asia or elsewhere. This is due to certain features of the Australian economy, sound macro fundamentals of economic growth and low inflation, the flexibility of our exporters, our stable financial system, the productivity boom of the 1990s and flexible and adaptable economic institutions, particularly in the labour market.

The ACTU is now welcoming `flexible and adaptable economic institutions, particularly in the labour market', which I suppose puts them in the progressive wing of the Labor Party, along with the member for Melbourne and the member for Werriwa—I welcome them both here today, the thinkers of the Labor Party—against the member for Hotham and the member for Brand. I said yesterday that I have actually read both of your books, which I think are important contributions to economic thinking.

Mr Melham —When is your cookbook coming out?

Mr COSTELLO —I welcome the way in which you endorse government policy. But we have to say that there are at least two people on the Labor frontbench who have been unable to bring themselves to modern economic thinking. They are respectively the Leader and the Deputy Leader of the Opposition. They are now behind the ACTU, behind the member for Werriwa, behind the member for Melbourne—unable to congratulate the government on its economic management. I encourage them to try to modernise their thinking and to take a leaf from each of the books that have been published, because they may learn something.