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Wednesday, 17 November 2004
Page: 76


Senator LIGHTFOOT (2:08 PM) —My question is addressed to the Leader of the Government in the Senate, Senator the Hon. Robert Hill. My question is in two parts. Will the minister inform the Senate how the government will fulfil its mandate from the Australian public to continue its record of responsible economic management? Is the minister aware of any alternative policies?


Senator HILL (Minister for Defence) —I thank Senator Lightfoot for an important question. It is the Labor Party that has regarded this issue as unimportant for so long and the Labor Party that sought to avoid the issue at all in the last election, presumably because of its own appalling record in relation to economic management. But there are achievements of which the Howard government is proud and on which it intends to build, and the Labor Party is going to hear a lot more about that over the course of the next three years. I particularly wanted to draw to the Senate's attention the recent IMF report on Australia that was released, because I am sure all honourable senators will be pleased to note that it gave great credit to the Australian government and to the Australian economy. It recognised that our economy was likely to outperform that of most OECD countries in the near term. In commenting on Australia's strong economic performance, it noted in particular our:

... exemplary record of macro-economic and financial management and implementation of structural reforms ...

In other words, what it is recognising are the reforms that have been implemented by the Howard government that have resulted in low inflation, low interest rates—benefits that flow to all Australian people.

I wanted to point out to the Senate also, and perhaps partly as a result of that strong economic record, that we are in a time of almost record high consumer confidence. It is at its highest level in a decade; the second highest in 30 years. It is of course also because more Australians are in work than ever before, because interest rates remain low, because inflation remains low, because business has confidence. The third point I wanted to emphasise, and something of which we are extremely proud, is the current unemployment rate and the fact that it has been brought down to 5.3 per cent, now at its lowest rate for more than a generation. It is some 27 years before you go back to figures of that ilk.

Not surprisingly, therefore, we are pleased to talk about our achievements in relation to the economy, but we also emphasise that Australia exists in a very competitive world and there is always a need to do more. This government is committed to maintaining this economic record and to building upon our successes in this area. We recognise, in fact, that that unemployment level could be even better had it not been for the Labor Party continually blocking our industrial relations reforms in this chamber—particularly the unfair dismissal reforms in relation to small business. We have indicated now, with yet another mandate of the Australian people, our determination to have these laws implemented, these reforms passed, in order that we can continue to build upon that most impressive employment record.

So there it is: a government that stands proud of its achievements but nevertheless determined to do even better—to build upon a record of low inflation, low interest rates, record low unemployment, budget surpluses and an economy which is the envy of the Western world. By contrast, all we have from the Labor Party—which, as I said, sought to avoid this issue throughout the last election—is a record when they were last in government of, on one occasion, up to a million Australians unemployed, home interest rates achieving 17 per cent and record business interest rates of 20 per cent. (Time expired)