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Weak growth rate in line with budget expectations: Joe Hockey -

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MARK COLVIN: The Federal Treasurer insists there is a positive story in today's weak economic growth figures.

Joe Hockey says the annual rate of growth is in line with budget expectations, and shows that Australia's performing better than other commodities-based economies.

But the Opposition says Mr Hockey is being selective with his international comparisons, and the figures are 'gravely concerning'.

From Canberra, Naomi Woodley reports.

NAOMI WOODLEY: When the GDP figures for the March quarter were unexpectedly strong, Joe Hockey said commentators warning of a recession were clowns.

Today's weaker than expected growth figures for the June quarter elicited a more muted, but still positive response from the Federal Treasurer.

JOE HOCKEY: These national accounts which cover the last financial year indicate that we have as a nation completed 24 consecutive years of economic growth, second only to the record of the Netherlands of 26.5 years.

NAOMI WOODLEY: Joe Hockey says the quarterly figures are often volatile, and the averaged annual rate of growth is a better indicator of the economy's health.

JOE HOCKEY: This outcome is entirely consistent with what we forecast in the May budget. These national accounts recorded year average growth of 2.5 per cent, just as we forecast in May.

Importantly we have outperformed our other budget forecast with stronger employment growth and lower unemployment at the end of June.

NAOMI WOODLEY: And he was at pains to distinguish Australia from similar economies overseas.

JOE HOCKEY: Quite clearly there is a resilience in the Australian economy that other economies that have huge exposure to commodity prices could only wish for.

NAOMI WOODLEY: The shadow treasurer, Chris Bowen, isn't buying into the Government's positivity.

CHRIS BOWEN: Last quarter he was comparing our economic growth on a quarterly basis to other countries, now I note today, just a few hours ago, he was comparing us on an annual basis because the quarterly figures don't work for him.

Now the fact of the matter is that compared to countries like the United States, the United Kingdom, even against Europe - which has had a very obvious and dramatic economic challenges - Australia is underperforming.

So Joe Hockey should stop looking for excuses, he should start looking for growth in jobs.

NAOMI WOODLEY: The Opposition is worried about the economy, but Chris Bowen couldn't be drawn to utter the word recession.

CHRIS BOWEN: I'll allow commentators to utter it, but it's a word I prefer to avoid unless and until the circumstances are warranted. This is a poor quarter, there's no getting around that, this is a very poor quarter of economic growth.

We need to hope that the next quarter is significantly better.

NAOMI WOODLEY: Both sides of politics are intensely campaigning on jobs, and it is the central factor in the ongoing argument about the free trade agreement with China. Today, two former Labor trade ministers weighed in.

On ABC Radio in Sydney, Simon Crean urged the Opposition to pass the agreement's enabling legislation. He says concerns about foreign workers replacing locals are misplaced.

SIMON CREAN: The existing 457 visa arrangements remain, as does the requirement for skill requirements - Australian skill requirements - to be met. Jobs have to be offered to Australians first.

NAOMI WOODLEY: His successor as trade minister, Craig Emerson, disagrees on that point. He says he can see the benefits of the agreement, but he told News Radio that if the Government says labour market testing will apply in each case, it should pass legislation to that effect.

CRAIG EMERSON: You don't need to change the deal. All you need to do is legislate separately to say that labour market testing will be required.

NAOMI WOODLEY: The views of former Labor ministers and current Labor premiers are providing the Prime Minister Tony Abbott with plenty of ammunition to attack the Opposition Leader.

TONY ABBOTT: Bob Hawke knows it's right, Bob Carr knows it's right, Simon Crean knows it's right, Premier Andrews knows it's right, Premier Weatherill knows it's right, Chief Minister Barr knows it's right - the only people who don't want this deal to go ahead and to go ahead now is Bill Shorten and the CFMEU.

Well really, frankly, whose side are you on? That's my question to Bill Shorten. Thank you so much, thank you.

NAOMI WOODLEY: The Opposition Leader Bill Shorten is trying to walk a careful line, saying he's on the same page as the Labor premiers and his former colleagues.

Bill Shorten says Labor supports free trade, but will put Australian jobs before all else. Today he sought to tie his concerns about the free trade agreement to the allegations that some 7-Eleven franchises have exploited foreign workers.

BILL SHORTEN: Why on earth do we want to undermine Australian labour standards, Australian skill standards which protect the safety of Australian consumers?

Now we'll sort this issue out, but Labor will not be bullied to give up on standing up for Australian jobs by the shouting of Mr Abbott and his Liberals.

NAOMI WOODLEY: But he blunted his own attack by confusing the convenience store chain with a fast food outlet.

BILL SHORTEN: I think we've all been appalled and disgusted by the scenes at Subway where literally thousands of people on visas have been ripped off.

NAOMI WOODLEY: Mr Shorten apologised on Twitter saying he meant to refer to 7-Eleven.

MARK COLVIN: Naomi Woodley.