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Shadow Treasurer criticises Treasurer after IMF comments on economy; comments on Shell-Woodside decision; promises greater transparency for Foreign Investment Review Board; criticises petrol price rise on Anzac Day.

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Simon Crean - Katherine McGrath - ABC Radio, AM - IMF Report, Budget Surplus, Woodside, Petrol Monday, 30 April 2001

Simon Crean - Shadow Treasurer

Interview with Katherine McGrath

Subjects: IMF Report, Budget Surplus, Woodside, Petrol

Transcript - ABC Radio, AM - 27 April 2001


ANNOUNCER: Well the Shadow Treasurer, Simon Crean says that the IMF Report indicates that the Government has refused to come clean with the Australian public about the state of the economy. He says he is especially concerned that the IMF has downgraded Australia's growth forecast from 3.4% to 1.9%. Mr Crean has joined us this morning from our studio in Newcastle. To talk to him, chief political correspondent Katherine McGrath.

McGRATH: Mr Crean thanks for speaking to 'AM' this morning. The IMF Report does say however, that while growth will drop it will pick up to 3½% next year, so isn't that at least something that is good news?

CREAN: The bad news in this, is that that Fund blames the GST for what's happened in Australia. No wonder Peter Costello didn't mention this in his press release. Nor did he mention the fact of the dramatic downward revision by the IMF in growth forecasts. Now, these forecasts are developed in consultation with the Australian Government. What is he telling the IMF that he's not prepared to tell the Australian public?

McGRATH: Well obviously he's also saying that growth will increase to 3½% next year, now do you concede that that is looking good for the economic growth next year?

CREAN: Well I hope it is. I hope it is going to go up. But what the IMF is really confirming is that the GST has had a major downward impact on growth in our economy. Now what does the Treasurer do? He won't release the figures that say what the state of unemployment is going to be. Why? Because they can only be bad. This is a Treasurer that wants to sanitise it. He puts out a press release last night, not mentioning the downward revision in growth, not telling us what the unemployment implications are, and then he bolts the country. He heads to Washington.

McGRATH: Mr Crean part of what the IMF said, though also, was that this performance in Australia is part of a world economic slow down and they emphasis that it won't be as bad as the late 90s.

CREAN: Okay, but what they're also saying is that world growth will be slightly weaker. It has revised world growth down to 3.2% as I understand it - we still haven't got the full report by the way. But the Australian growth has been revised down from there 3.2% where it said as recently as a month ago, the IMF, Australia was still placed, it's revised that down from 3.4% to 1.9%. Now what is it that the Government is hiding from the Australian public? The IMF is obviously privy to this information. We've been calling for the Government to come clean on the true state of the books. This has implications for employment. It has implications for the Budget. The Government needs to come clean, not sanitise it and not pretend we haven't got a problem.

McGRATH: Mr Crean, on the Budget. The Prime Minister yesterday confirmed that he believed Australia needed a balanced budget and he was not in favour of running a small deficit. What would you do if you were in Government?

CREAN: Well we don't believe that the Budget needs to go into deficit. I mean after all, three years ago, the forecast for the surplus this year was supposed to have been $11 billion. The Prime Minister is now talking of 'barely a surplus'. That is a huge squandering of the Budget surplus. And for what? A GST that has mugged the Australian economy, driven unemployment up, locked-in higher inflation. What they are doing is mismanaging the Australian economy.

McGRATH: Mr Crean, on Woodside, if you were in Government and another offer was put forward by Shell, what would your position be? Would you impose conditions?

CREAN: We would consider those proposals on its merits. We would want, if the bid was to go ahead, to be certain that it was going ahead in the national interest and the key component in that was the commitment to develop Australia's natural gas reserves. Now what Shell said on Monday was that all of the conditions that FIRB put to them, they complied with. What were the additional conditions that the Treasurer put that they didn't comply with? That's what the Australian public needs to know, and that's what future proponents for investment need to know as well. You can't conduct these things in secrecy.

McGRATH: Would you change the way that the Foreign Investment Review Board works? Would you make their decisions public?

CREAN: We would give greater transparency for the reasons and the criteria going to the national interest. We would be making the whole process much more transparent.

McGRATH: But would the decisions be public? Would people be able to look at them, sift through the transcripts, really analyse it that way?

CREAN: I think that what the people are entitled to see is transparent decisions by the Government, so that they know precisely the grounds on which the national interest test was applied.

McGRATH: Mr Crean, petrol is going up again, what would you do if you were in Government at the moment to combat these rising petrol prices?

CREAN: Well look, I don't think there can be any sympathy for the oil companies in these circumstances. I think what they did on ANZAC Day was stupid. But the Government can't just blame them. Nor can it say it is the problem with the ACCC, throw the book at them. This is a Government,

when it announced its backdown on petrol prices, that said it was going to establish an inquiry to look at the whole question of petrol pricing. Where is that inquiry? When the Treasurer was asked recently about it, he said that they were still considering the terms of reference. This is a government that has no intention of dealing with the problem and its example in terms of passing the blame, throwing it to someone else, is just another classic case of them not knowing what to do and having no intention of trying to address the issue. Labor has got its inquiry still in process. We are taking submissions on these very questions and we will be making pronouncements about them at the appropriate time.

McGRATH: Mr Crean thank you for talking to AM this morning.

CREAN: Pleasure.

Ends Authorised by Geoff Walsh, 19 National Circuit, Barton ACT 2600.

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