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Monday, 8 March 1999
Page: 2318

Senator GIBSON —My question without notice is to the Leader of the Government in the Senate, Senator Hill. Under the Howard government Australians are benefiting from sustained low interest and low inflation. Is the minister aware of further economic data which shows that the Australian economy is well placed under this government to continue its strong performance?

Senator HILL (Environment and Heritage) —Under the sound economic management of the Howard government the Australian economy is well placed to continue its strong performance and to continue to provide low interest rates, low inflation and more job opportunities for all Australians. As I said, Australia continues to enjoy low inflation. With a 1.6 per cent annual inflation rate to December, it has now been under two per cent for more than two years—the best sustained low inflation outcome in over 30 years. Home owners are paying the lowest mortgage rates also for more than 30 years, with savings on a $100,000 variable home loan now worth some $330 dollars a month. This low inflation, low interest rate environment has been a major benefit for Australian businesses. We are now seeing strong jobs growth, with more than 370,000 new jobs created since this government was elected.

Last week we saw the latest evidence of the underlying strength of our economy with the release of the December quarter national accounts. The figures showed that the Australian economy grew by 1.1 per cent for the December quarter and by an amazing 4.7 per cent through the year to the December quarter. Do you remember what Labor was saying a few months ago? Former shadow Treasurer Gareth Evans said in July:

Obviously there's nothing like 4 per cent growth in prospect for the next year or two.

And, again, in September he said:

All the evidence is that the Australian economy is on a precipice, hanging on by its fingertips:

And again, later the same month, he said:

There is absolutely no foundation for the Treasury assumption that there'll be—

Honourable senators interjecting

The PRESIDENT —Order! I am sorry to interrupt, Senator Hill. There is disorderly behaviour in the chamber and senators are shouting across the chamber. I would ask them to abide by the standing orders.

Senator HILL —Thank you, Madam President. I am reminding Labor senators that Gareth Evans said:

There is absolutely no foundation for the Treasury assumption that there'll be a 3.5 per cent growth rate.

The other good thing about this news is that it is sustainable; it really does now look as if we have got a recovery that will last—in contrast to what happened in the 1980s. Again, I quote somebody close to the Labor Party. John Edwards, former economics adviser to Paul Keating, said of the comparison:

I think this one is going to be much more durable, and I think it will be much more durable because productivity is three times as high over this expansion as it was in the eighties. Inflation is very low, we're globalising rapidly and our industrial structure is changing very rapidly in ways I think that will support . . . long term expansion.

Again, Alan Oster, the chief economist for the National Australia Bank, said:

In terms of comparison back to the eighties, Australia is fundamentally better positioned than it was in the late eighties.

So this government is taking the hard decisions to tackle debt, which Labor was never prepared to do, and taking the hard decisions to tackle labour relations, which the former Labor government was never prepared to do, has laid the foundations not only for the economic strength that we now see in the economy but for the confidence that it is going to last over a sustainable period.

It was not surprising that last week, when that excellent result came out in terms of economic growth, Labor's shadow minister, Mr Crean, went missing. Labor is embarrassed by the fact that the Howard government has been able to deliver economic growth that has brought benefits to all Australians—so starkly in contrast to the pitiful efforts of the former Labor government.