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Thursday, 26 February 1987
Page: 694

Senator CHANEY —My question is directed to the Leader of the Government in the Senate. I preface it by saying that for a Minister for Industry, Technology and Commerce to describe the issue of interest rates as parochial and not related to the prime issues facing Australia shows an extraordinary lack of comprehension of the real problems that face investors in this country. I refer the Minister to claims by the Minister for Finance that the interest rate briefing note, prepared by Dr Hawkins of the Department of Housing and Construction, is out of date and written by an officer without access to the major sources of economic advice to the Government. I ask the Minister: Is the Government saying that it is receiving different advice on interest rates from other sections of the Public Service, such as Treasury and bodies such as the Reserve Bank of Australia? If so, will the Government table that advice and, in particular, any advice which supports the claim made by the Prime Minister in the House of Representatives just over a week ago that `we look to 1987 with a cautious optimism about the economy including a fall in interest rates in 1987'?

Senator BUTTON —I cannot give an answer as to whether that advice will be tabled or not, but I certainly take Senator Chaney's question on board. I think the point is that the officer who prepared the briefing note clearly has a view about interest rates. There are other views within the bureaucracy; there are other views within the joint economic forecasting group; there are other views within Treasury; and there are others within the economist community of Australia. For example, at the National Economics Conference, which was held in Victoria a week or so ago, the majority of the economists did not share the view expressed in that housing minute. I think they are important contributors to the debate about this issue. So there are a variety of views and the question of tabling all this advice or otherwise is a matter which we can consider.

I go back to the initial part of Senator Chaney's question. I was talking about housing interest rates, in answer to an interjection from Senator Lewis-not interest rates generally but housing interest rates-and then Senator Chaney got up and asked a cheap political question about whether I conceded that that was a major problem facing Australia. He said: `Is it not extraordinary for a Minister for Industry, Technology and Commerce to say a thing like that?'. No, I do not think it is, because the interest rate problems of this country are directly related to the exchange rate and to the decline in national income in this country. The honourable senator is about popularising symptoms rather than looking at causes, and that is the difference between the two of us. It is very disappointing for the Leader of the Opposition to ask a question like that. I am reminded of that story: What did Mickey Mouse get for Christmas? The answer is: A Senator Chaney watch.