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Prime Minister tells Parliament that the recession ended a long time ago.

EXTRACT PAUL KEATING: What is this power-packed, hard hitting question?

SPEAKER: The honourable Member for Mayo will cease interjecting.

PAUL KEATING: It's about the recession. Well, we've grown 1.6 per cent growth over the year to 30 June. That is, we're out of the recession long ago, growing again now towards 3 per cent. Now over a year ago - I know that galls you but that's the case.


PETER THOMPSON: The Prime Minister declaring in Parliament yesterday that Australia is out of recession and was out of it long ago. Mr Keating bases his optimism on the 1.6 per cent growth over the past financial year, saying that Australia is now moving towards a 3 per cent growth rate. Well, the Prime Minister may think the recession is over, but Merle Mitchell, the President of the Australian Council of Social Service, thinks otherwise. Merle Mitchell is talking to Felicity Biggins.

MERLE MITCHELL: Whether or not we're technically out of the recession is really irrelevant. The pain is far from over, the recovery is going to be long and slow, and we're going to be left with a large number of people who will remain unemployed for a long period of time.

FELICITY BIGGINS: Well, what comfort should they take, then, from the Prime Minister's statement that not only are we out of recession, we were out of it a long time ago?

MERLE MITCHELL: There's very little comfort in that statement for the probably 400,000 to 500,000 long term unemployed people. We need, whether we're coming out of this recession or not, we need all of us to continue to be restrained. We need wage restraint. We need to ensure that those tax cuts do not go ahead. We need to be looking at what we need to do for those people who have been unemployed for so long.

FELICITY BIGGINS: Is it irresponsible of the Prime Minister to say we're out of recession?

MERLE MITCHELL: I suppose for confidence in the business community it is important to note that we are slowing coming out of that recession, and any indication that we are coming out of the recession is to be welcomed. But that does not mean that we want to go back to the old boom bust cycle. That would be the very worst thing that we can do, and that's why ACOSS has been calling for restraint from all of the community in this very important period as we gradually move out of the recession.

FELICITY BIGGINS: How long is it going to take those positive growth figures to filter down to actually improving the lot of people who are unemployed?

MERLE MITCHELL: Well, even the Government's own figures show that by the middle of this decade it is not expected that unemployment will drop to much more than 7.5 per cent. That's far too high. That will leave us with a community of those who are able to participate and contribute to our community and a substantial number of people who will not be able to do either.

FELICITY BIGGINS: Well, you now have an ally in the National Australia Bank's Don Argus who is saying that the Government shouldn't go ahead with the tax cuts on the grounds that they'll prove too stimulatory. Are those your reasons as well? MERLE MITCHELL: Yes, and the other reason is of course that it cuts from the Government's revenue and means that the Government will not have the money for the very important spending which will assist us to come further out of the recession and also to provide that much needed assistance to unemployed people. The need to continue to spend on infrastructure, the need to continue to provide the labour market programs which will ensure that unemployed people get their fair share of the jobs as they become available. PETER THOMPSON: Merle Mitchell of the Australian Council of Social Service.