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Transcript of press conference: Sydney CPO: 7 December 2016: national accounts; negative quarter of growth; Government division and disunity

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SUBJECT/S: National Accounts; Negative quarter of growth, Government division and disunity

CHRIS BOWEN, SHADOW TREASURER: Well Malcolm Turnbull and Scott Morrison keep telling Australians that the economic transition is going well, and that they have a plan. It’s not going well and they don’t have a plan. This quarter’s economic growth result is deeply disappointing for Australia. Now, it is true that economic quarterly figures do bounce around, and we would hope and trust that next quarter’s figures are much stronger off this very, very low base. But the fact of the matter is, that this is a very deeply concerning result, despite what the Treasurer said a few moments ago. The fact of the matter is that this is just the fourth negative quarter in 101 quarters in Australia. Just the fourth negative quarter since 1991. And in fact, on the other occasions this has occurred in the past 25 years, there have been very good and clear reasons for it. For example in 2011, Australia was dealing with Cyclone Yasi. In 2009, the greatest economic downturn since the Great Depression, internationally, and of course, in 2000 the aftermath of the activity in the Sydney Olympics. It’s also the case though, that this figure is worse than 2011, worse than 2000, and comparable to 2009 in the middle of the Global Financial Crisis. Now in other words, this is the second worst economic growth result in the last 25 years. Malcolm Turnbull and Scott Morrison have no excuse. The Treasurer, a few moments ago, in what I thought was a rather pathetic press conference, spent the whole time blaming the Labor party. The Labor Party is not in office. Scott Morrison is the Treasurer. Scott Morrison must take responsibility. Just last quarter, Scott Morrison said in relation to those results and I quote “Today’s National Accounts results once again confirm the successful transition being managed in our economy from the largest investment boom in our history to broad based growth.” That’s what he said three months ago, in a very different picture today. Malcolm Turnbull wasn’t interested in the real story in 2009 when he was Leader of the Opposition and there was a negative quarter, he said that was a result of Government actions, he condemned the then Government for not having an economic strategy. Well like with so many other things, Malcolm Turnbull used to say one thing, and now he says another. Of course annual growth has fallen from a revised 3.1 to 1.8 percent. This is not jobs and growth. Now all the Government has is a slogan. Even on their own

admission, their so called ‘Jobs and Growth’ plan would make our economy 1 percent bigger in twenty years time. That’s not a plan for today, that’s not a plan for next year. That is not a serious and proper attempt to ensure that Australia’s 26 years of uninterrupted economic growth continues. The fact of the matter is that as I made clear at the National Press Club last week, we’ve seen a series of one-off factors which have seen positive growth in other quarters leading up to this. It was the case that band-aids and rubber bands could not keep our economic growth in positive territory as has been shown so clearly today. We need a plan to improve economic efficiency, productivity and growth in Australia. That plan involves investment in the National Broadband Network, investment in infrastructure, investment in our schools. That plan involves investment in our human resources, in our capital, our young people. It’s the sort of growth plan Australia needs, not a plan which simply, on a wing and a prayer hopes that a massive $50 billion dollar hit to the federal budget would deliver 1 percent growth in twenty years time. That’s not a plan for Australia. It’s about time Scott Morrison and Malcolm Turnbull moved on from the chaos, division and dysfunction that we are seeing play out so spectacularly today and yesterday. All they’re focused on is themselves, their own division and their own jobs. Well today should be a reminder, a wakeup call, that they need to be focused on our economic growth because there is no guarantee it will continue on their watch. Happy to take some questions.

JOURNALIST: Mr Bowen, in your view are we likely to see a recession?

BOWEN: Well I certainly hope not, and it’s not a term that I use lightly. As I indicated in my opening marks, I would hope and trust that next quarter is stronger, based on recovering from this very, very low and disappointing base today.

JOURNALIST: What do you want to see from here on in from the Government’s perspective?

BOWEN: Well I want to see some recognition of the reality. It’s no good saying that the economic transition is going well and that they have a plan. They don’t have a plan. They have a slogan. And all they’re focused on is themselves, their own jobs and their own division as we are seeing today. I mean Scott Morrison just held a press conference and blamed the Labor Party for these results. He was sworn in as Treasurer. Josh Frydenberg held a press conference this morning and blamed Labor for their absolute chaos on climate change. I mean it’s about time they actually looked in the mirror and took some responsibility that they are the elected Government of Australia they’ve been in office now for more than three years, it’s more than six months since the last election, where they promised jobs and growth. And we have this, the second worst economic growth figure in 25 years on the Government’s watch, on Scott Morrison and Malcolm Turnbull’s watch.

JOURNALIST: What do the latest economic growth figures tell us about the state of the economy?

BOWEN: Well as I say I think they are deeply concerning and of course we have been saying for some time, that beneath the headline growth rate, even when those headline figures were strong, there were deeply concerning patterns emerging whether it be in rural and regional Australia, regional Victoria where I was yesterday or central Queensland. Areas that are doing it tough. And that is only underlined further today with

this deeply disappointing headline rate which Mr Morrison could hardly bring himself to acknowledge.

JOURNALIST: I was going to say, throw your mind forward to the next quarter because we are going to see numbers then, what happens?

BOWEN: Well, as I said, I think, Ross, that we should hope and trust, and it’s appropriate that we all bear in mind our responsibilities, particularly those of us in Public Office to make sure that our comments are measured and well-balanced while calling it as it is. That’s why I say you can work on the basis that if there’s not a strong bounce back next quarter, then we have very, very deep cause for concern, even deeper than today obviously. Now when we have a deeply disappointing quarter such as this, you would hope that next quarter things are better.

JOURNALIST: So do you think under this Government a recession is real?

BOWEN: I’m not going to utter the R word lightly. We would hope, trust, and very much indeed many of us pray, that this is not the case. But it’s up to the Government to ensure it’s not the case.

JOURNALIST: Why aren’t the figures much better in your opinion? What’s holding us back?

BOWEN: What’s holding us back is a lack of a clear economic plan from this Government, a lack of focus on the economy, a lack of a clear focus on jobs and growth. All they do is talk about jobs and growth, they’ve done not one thing to deliver jobs and growth since the election.

JOURNALIST: Could have this coincidence of events that caused this negative quarter in the economy, could have just as easily happened under a Labor Treasurer, as a coalition?

BOWEN: Well Ross, two points. Firstly, when we’ve had negative quarters in the last 25 years there’s been a clear reason. Either Cyclone Yasi, or the Global Financial Crisis, or the aftermath of the strong activity during the Sydney Olympic Games. Everybody has known about it and while the Leader of the Liberal Party may have chosen to make hay about it at the time, Malcolm Turnbull, there was a clear explanation which everybody understood. Expert commentators could say this is a one off, unlikely to be repeated. That’s not the case this time. I mean what can Scott Morrison point to? What excuse can he point to? Not an internationally global downturn, not a cyclone, we haven’t had the Olympics in Australia. He has no excuse, no alibi. He must take responsibility for this. The second I make is, that, as I said as the National Press Club, we’ve had a series of quarters where one thing has saved the day. A spike in Government investment saved the day and put us in positive territory, a spike in net exports, no credit to the Government saved the Government and put us in positive territory. Now that can’t go on forever. And today was the day it stopped.