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Thursday, 5 December 2002
Page: 7286

Senator BRANDIS (2:58 PM) —My question is directed to Senator Minchin, the Minister representing the Treasurer. Will the minister advise the Senate of the contribution business investment is making to Australia's current strong economic growth? How have the Howard government's policies contributed to the strength of business investment and is the minister aware of any alternative policies?

Senator MINCHIN (Minister for Finance and Administration) —I thank Senator Brandis for that very good question about the state of the Australian economy which, as the national accounts released yesterday show, is in remarkably good shape, despite the drought. Despite the state of the international economy, we are still growing at an annual rate of 3.7 per cent, so we are still the leading economy in the developed world. The most significant thing out of the figures released yesterday was the state of business investment, which is growing very strongly. It is going to underpin growth through this year and underpin our expectation of four per cent in 2003-04. Over the past year new plant and equipment was up 12 per cent, new building investment was up 17 per cent and, most significantly, engineering construction was up a massive 39 per cent.

There is a very impressive list of major projects attached to the national accounts figures. Some 34 major projects around Australia are listed there. There is $6 billion invested in projects currently under construction. We have got the North West Shelf expansion, the Alice to Darwin railway and things like that. There is an additional $16 billion worth of investment scheduled to start this year, and $6 billion worth of investment on top of that that could well commence this year.

Interestingly, a lot of these 34 projects are only happening because of federal government support. They would have either gone to other countries or not happened at all if we had not got behind them through our strategic investment incentive program—an excellent program run by this government—or with direct funding. I remind the Senate that we have put $190 million into the Adelaide-Darwin railway—and that is a $1.3 billion investment. We are putting $350-odd million into the Western Sydney orbital and $445 million into the Scoresby freeway—both billion-dollar programs. We have backed the Comalco aluminium refinery and the Australian Magnesium Corporation project— both massive projects—to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars.

A lot of these things are happening because the economy is so strong, because we have backed these projects and encouraged them to come to Australia through our support and, even more importantly, because we have a realistic, practical national interest policy on greenhouse gases. We have made it clear that we will not sign up to the Kyoto protocol in its current state because it would damage the economy and render unlikely any chance of getting these projects to come to Australia—unlike the Labor Party, which is manically committed to signing the Kyoto protocol and thus threatening the very future of investment in this country.

Senator Hill —Mr President, I ask that further questions be placed on the Notice Paper.