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Wednesday, 3 October 1984
Page: 1103


Senator COLEMAN —The Leader of the Government in the Senate will be aware of comments on the current state of the economic recovery in Australia. Will he comment on the recent Australian Bureau of Statistics production figures and the state of the main economic indicators and whether they suggest that the economy is still recovering?


Senator BUTTON —I am glad to have the opportunity that Senator Coleman has given me by her question to comment about the economy. It is something which the Opposition has singularly failed to do, particularly in this chamber, on the last two or three weeks. Senator Coleman mentioned the recent ABS production figures which, as I said yesterday, are not in the Government's view a good guide because one needs to look at all the indicators which are available. Even the ABS production figures show that in the three months to August this year, compares with the figures for last year, production rose for 20 items and fell for only seven.

Real gross domestic product growth in 1983-84 in this country was a rate of 5.7 per cent. The rate of inflation fell substantially from the figure of 11.5 per cent in 1982-83, despite the announced commitment and announced policy of the previous Government to fight inflation first. In spite of fighting inflation first, inflation reached a figure of 11.5 per cent in 1982-83. Eighteen months later it is now down to 6.5 per cent.

Unemployment was a matter which the previous Government was not committed to fighting first, or even second. It rose considerably to a figure in excess of 10 per cent in March 1983. The unemployment rate is now down to 8.9 per cent. Although that is not a satisfactory figure for any government, it is one which is gratifying in the circumstances of the last 18 months. There has been strong employment growth, with over 237,000 new jobs created between April 1983 and August 1984.

Consumer spending is high and it rose by 2.5 per cent in 1983-84. The latest survey of consumer confidence conducted by the Melbourne University's Institute of Social Research shows consumer optimism at near record levels for this country. The prices and incomes accord, similarly, has contributed greatly to wage stability and industrial harmony. I remind the Senate that last year was the best year in terms of the level of industrial disputation in this country for 16 years.

In summary, the broad range of indicators suggest that things are definately looking up. There is a mood abroad which contrasts sharply with that in the seven years of the previous Government. I make the point that none of this information seems to make Senator Chaney, the Leader of the Opposition in the Senate, particularly happy. Indeed, only recently Senator Chaney in his capacity as Leader of the Opposition in the Senate, sent a telex to the Prime Minister. If I might say so, it was a somewhat churlish telex, probably written on a Friday afternoon. That telex sought to make some sort of crude link between organised crime and the taxation policies of the present Government.

One of the highlights of Senator Chaney's telex-and he asked a great number of questions-was that he asked the Prime Minister in particular whether he would guarantee that interest rates would not rise in 1985. I would have thought that that was an extraordinary question.


Senator Chaney —Because some of your Ministers are taking credit for reduced interest rates.


Senator BUTTON —The question that Senator Chaney directed to the Prime Minister was this: Will there be a guarantee that interest rates will not rise in 1985? I recall Ministers in the previous Government making some undertakings about interest rates. Indeed, Deputy Prime Minister Anthony, in 1977 I think, said that if interest rates did not fall by 2 per cent in the following year he would eat his hat.


Senator Messner —They did come down.


Senator BUTTON —Interest rates in fact rose during the following year, Senator. No politician, and certainly no statesman such as the Prime Minister, would give the sort of guarantee which Senator Chaney seeks. On the other hand, in discussing indicators generally, there was one indicator which I did not mention and that was interest rates, which have fallen. The anticipated outlook by a number of commentators is for a further fall in interest rates during 1985.

The telex from Senator Chaney asked a number of other hypothetical questions about government taxation policy.


Senator Chaney —Is this the Prime Minister's answer?


Senator BUTTON —No, it is my answer. I was asked a question by Senator Coleman. Senator Chaney's telex asked a number of questions about government taxation policy. Let me say this: It is all very well to ask questions about these things , but I suggest that Chaney and his colleagues get their heads down and produce a taxation policy for the Opposition because time may be of the essence.


Senator Chaney —Are you threatening us with an early election?


Senator BUTTON —Not at all. I said time may be of the essence. I am thinking about Christmas. People are entitled to know before Christmas what the Opposition's taxation policy is likely to be. I assure the people of Australia that there will be no Christmas present because if they add up the promises made by the Opposition to date, there would be no room for any reductions in taxation . I expect that policy to be presented shortly and I expect it will receive a bagging similar to that received by the rest of the Opposition's policies.