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Tuesday, 2 December 2003
Page: 23421

Mr KING (2:17 PM) —My question is directed to the Treasurer. Would the Treasurer inform the House of the import of recent economic data? What does the data indicate about the health of the economy? What are the challenges ahead? Are there any alternative policies to meet those challenges?

Mr COSTELLO (Treasurer) —I thank the honourable member for Wentworth for his question. I can inform him that building approvals for the month of October were released today, showing that total building approvals increased by 1.6 per cent. They are down over the course of the year, Mr Speaker, as you would expect, but it was a stronger than expected figure today. Retail trade continues to grow strongly, rising by 1.2 per cent in October to be 8.6 per cent higher than a year ago. We will be receiving the national accounts tomorrow, which will give us a fix on the state of the Australian economy, which, notwithstanding drought and the difficult international situation, continues to outperform most of the developed economies of the world.

I take this opportunity to welcome back the member for Fraser as the shadow Treasurer. I can tell him that it will certainly lift the Labor Party's credibility on Treasury matters that he is back as the shadow Treasurer. I congratulate the member for Werriwa on his elevation, and offer commiserations to the members for Griffith, Perth and Lilley on such a bad day. But it could always be said of them that, on this occasion, the roosters voted against an early Christmas!

The alternatives that have been put forward by the Labor Party have been many and varied. We had the proposal from the member for Werriwa to abolish negative gearing. He was overruled on that question by the then Leader of the Opposition. However, there is now no Leader of the Opposition to overrule him. So we have negative gearing, which undoubtedly will come back onto the table. We also had the capital gains tax on the family home—another one of the pet projects of the member for Werriwa. Again there is no-one to overrule him on that. Speaking of pet projects, we also had the progressive expenditure tax, another one of the pet projects of the member for Werriwa, which he put forward as an alternative to the GST. And of course we had regional GSTs, which were also put forward by the member for Werriwa.

The reality is that there is now no safety net under the Leader of the Opposition. The Leader of the Opposition is now on his own, with no higher authority to overrule him, and that speaks rather ill for the conduct of economic policy in this country. While he is about it, perhaps he could go back on Lateline tonight and resurrect negative gearing—the policy that lasted from Lateline to lunchtime can now come back in his own lifetime! On Lateline tonight, in relation to negative gearing, capital gains tax, PET and regional GST, as somebody said, it is going to be a ride—oh, what a wild ride! We expect to have two leaders for the price of one: both Arthur and Martha!