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Tuesday, 22 October 2002
Page: 5595


Senator JOHNSTON (3:21 PM) —I must say that, even after Saturday, I have now seen everything: the Labor Party comes into this chamber and wants to take point on economic management. It is absolutely mind-boggling in the extreme. Today we are being acknowledged with a re-rating up of our credit rating and the Labor Party is taking note on an issue of economic management.

What does it actually mean to ordinary Australians when Australia gets re-rated? First and foremost, it means lower interest rates for ordinary men and women paying their mortgages and their debts. What does it mean for my state of Western Australia? It means that foreign capital can actually flow in, because the risk premium component of the foreign capital or borrowing is reduced. It means the oil and gas industry can expand, as Woodside has on our North West Shelf, with 2,000 new jobs. It means men and women can actually maintain a high standard of living and enjoy the fruits of the highest rate of average weekly earnings, which those in Western Australia now enjoy. Goldmining companies can borrow offshore capital which we cannot raise onshore, given our small population, and we can put people on the ground in the far-flung regions of Western Australia, Queensland, the Northern Territory and South Australia and develop our mineral resources for the benefit of men and women and their families, to provide them with the good schools and hospitals that flow from good jobs—and this is all because we have a very strong credit rating and are respected internationally as good managers of our economy. The fact is the OECD envies Australia's ability to manage its economy. Indeed the government have achieved something of a minor miracle in economic management and are renowned in the OECD and across the world for delivering growth to this economy, growth that we had not seen before we took over in 1996.

Having said what happens in Western Australia, let me turn to what happens in respect of the states. The states can now borrow at reduced rates of interest. Notwithstanding the fact that they are six Labor states, those states are the direct beneficiaries of our credit re-rating, and that is of course a re-rating up to AAA. The fact is that enables the states to provide more hospitals, schools, nurses, employees and teachers. These are things which affect average, ordinary Australians greatly, yet the Labor Party comes in here and says that we are not doing a good job.

Let us remind ourselves of what it was like back in the early nineties. We had 11 per cent unemployment. That was double the rate now. That was double the number of people who wanted a job but could not find one. Those were real people—these were men and women—who wanted to work and raise their families with a reasonable standard of living but who could not find a job. Interest rates were up to 18 per cent. We had back in the early nineties `the recession we had to have' under this mob. These things are forgotten by the senators opposite, and it is quite remarkable that they would come in here and feign this rhetoric of Australia being the highest taxing country in the OECD. I am absolutely incredulous that, given the substantial victory for this government and for every Australian in this rerating today, they would seek to make a point on an economic issue.

Having said that the states are now able to raise more money and be more successful in their governance of their states, I turn to Senator Conroy. He just simply will not take note of what occurred during Labor's time at the helm. Senator Webber wants to talk about ideological cant. It is an absolute tragedy that the senators opposite have a complete policy vacuum when it comes to every single issue. We are winning with respect to Centrelink, defence reform, education and training, and employment. The figures and the runs are on the board. Sadly, there is no energy and indeed no hope among those opposite.