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Wednesday, 10 September 2003
Page: 19700

Mr HAWKER (3:03 PM) —My question is to the Treasurer. Will he advise the House of the results of the latest survey of consumer sentiment released by Westpac and the Melbourne Institute? Has the Treasurer seen recent comments on the effect of economic policy on confidence?

Mr COSTELLO (Treasurer) —I thank the honourable member for Wannon for his question. I can inform him that Westpac and the Melbourne Institute released their survey of consumer sentiment for September today showing that sentiment improved 3.2 per cent in the month and the index stands around 16 per cent above its long-run average. When you look at the difficulty in the world economy, SARS and the drought, it is really extraordinary that the Australian consumer is so confident.

Today's confidence numbers are consistent with other data showing that Australians are confident about economic prospects. Retail turnover increased 0.8 per cent in July, and data from the Chamber of Automotive Industries last week showed total vehicle sales of 76,173 in August, a record sales figure for the Australian car industry. So the car industry is doing very well. The Victorian and South Australian car industry is doing very well. In New South Wales the car industry is doing quite well too.

Why is confidence strong? We had tax cuts on 1 July, we have low interest rates and we have confidence in the government's economic policy. One has a very busy time these days trying to find out what the alternative policy put forward on behalf of the Labor Party is. We have the member for Hotham's economic policy; that is, the Creanite policy. We have the member for Werriwa, who is, as I said, a veritable Aladdin's cave, a treasure-trove—a Treasurer's trove!—of economic inconsistency. And of course one has to keep an eye on the putative Labor leader for his economic policy coming out of Sydney. Today Mr Carr said that, before any party can pitch to the voters, it has got to persuade the voters on:

... the capacity to offer fiscally sound policies that guarantee on low interest rates and its capacity to protect the country's security ... That's the direction Simon Crean has been veering in ...

What an endorsement! Who knows where he has been coming from, but he has started veering in the direction of fiscally sound policies. The Carr industry from New South Wales finds that he has been veering in the direction—

Mr Latham —Mr Speaker, I rise on a point of order. The Treasurer might veer closer to a relevant answer given that the question was about consumer confidence and that none of the matters which he has been addressing for the last couple of minutes go within cooee of that particular subject.

The SPEAKER —The member for Werriwa will resume his seat. The Treasurer was asked to comment on a survey of consumer confidence from Westpac and the Melbourne Institute and policies that may in some way influence it.

Mr COSTELLO —The Premier of New South Wales is congratulating the Leader of the Opposition for veering in the direction of fiscally sound policies. Mr Speaker, can we recommend that veer take a larger turn and look a bit more like a U-turn in relation to economic policies? At the moment we have $1.5 billion of budget measures which are held up in the Senate. These measures are designed to base Australia's Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme and to reform the welfare system, and they have a $1.5 billion price tag attached to them.

When the member for Werriwa said he was going to become the spokesman on the economy for the Labor Party, he promised fiscal rigour. He said Labor would become the party of surplus rather than deficit. But in the time that he has been the spokesman for the Labor Party he has not changed their policy on one issue—not on the PBS, not on disability, not on labour market reform and not on Telstra. We heard a lot of talk from the member for Werriwa when he was on the backbench, when it looked like he wanted to endorse coalition policy on all of these things. But the moment he became the spokesman he forgot all of that rhetoric.

It is important for Australia's future that these matters clear the Senate. This is not this year's budget; this is last year's budget. I recommend to the Leader of the Opposition that he pull out the transcript from Premier Carr, look at the importance of fiscal responsibility and turn that veer into a U-turn so that Australia can have better policy.