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Wednesday, 11 December 2002
Page: 7723

Senator WATSON (2:04 PM) —My question is directed to the Leader of the Government in the Senate, Senator Hill. Will the leader update the Senate on how the Howard government's strong economic leadership is benefiting Australia, Australian workers and their families?

Senator HILL (Minister for Defence) —I welcome the question. As we come towards the end of the year, I think it is a good time to reflect upon the success of the Australian economy under the sound economic management of the Howard government. In fact, the Australian economy continues to be the envy of the major world economies. The Australian economy grew by 0.9 per cent in the September quarter and by 3.7 per cent throughout the year. There was ongoing strength in dwelling construction, which rose by 3.3 per cent to be up more than 22 per cent through the year. Underlying business investment increased by 2.6 per cent to be up more than 17 per cent throughout the year, and both plant and equipment and non-residential construction recorded strong gains. Private business investment increased by 2.9 per cent in the September quarter, following strong growth in the previous quarter, to be 12.2 per cent higher than a year ago. Private business investment was boosted by an increase of almost 40 per cent in new engineering construction over the past year.

The economy has shown considerable resilience to the world economic slowdown over the last year. In 2001-02, the Australian economy grew by a strong 3.9 per cent, compared to weak growth of only 0.7 per cent in the OECD area and 0.8 per cent in the United States. These figures clearly show that we are still the leading economy in the developed world. All this means great news for Australian workers and their families. Throughout the year to October 2002 total employment rose by over 183,000, which means that we have been able to create over 1 million jobs—over 400 jobs per day. Our unemployment rate of six per cent is the lowest in 12 years, and the outlook for the labour market remains positive. Economic conditions remain solid, job vacancies are 14.7 per cent higher than last year and business confidence remains strong. These are all outstanding figures which those opposite would kill for.

In summary, under the Howard government we have enjoyed the following: historically low interest rates—Australians are now saving nearly $4,000 per annum on a $100,000 loan—falling unemployment rates, with over one million jobs created; total surpluses of $22.4 billion in the last five budgets; an ability to repay, and having repaid, $61 billion of Labor's debt, saving $4.1 billion a year in interest costs; and $12 billion in personal income tax cuts from the introduction of the GST. Household wealth has increased by 57 per cent. This is all great news for Australia and Australian families. Just reflect upon the alternative record of the previous Labor government, with its high taxing, high spending and big deficit record. Labor racked up $96 billion of debt. Labor spent more on interest payments in its last two years than on education. Labor left us with a $10 billion budget black hole. Labor gave us record interest rates of 17 per cent— over 20 per cent for small business. Labor gave Australia unemployment levels that had not been seen since the Great Depression— over one million unemployed, a peak of over 10.9 per cent. (Time expired)