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Thursday, 24 June 2004
Page: 31519

Mr RANDALL (2:12 PM) —My question is addressed to the Treasurer. Would the Treasurer inform the House of recent trends in relation to living standards? What are the factors that have underpinned these trends? Are there any risks to further improvements in Australia's standard of living over the period ahead?

Mr COSTELLO (Treasurer) —I thank the honourable member for Canning for his question. I can inform the House that living standards in Australia have been strongly rising over the last eight years. This is reflected in various surveys of public opinion, including surveys about whether or not people have optimism for the future. Today Newspoll reports a survey where people were polled about their standard of living—whether they expected it to improve, stay the same or get worse or whether they were uncommitted. The level of those who thought that they would either maintain their standard of living or improve it over the next six months was the highest, at 84 per cent. That is a good thing, isn't it? Eighty-four per cent of Australians feel confident enough about their standard of living to say that they thought they were going to either maintain or improve their standard of living over the next six months. The level of those who thought things were going to get worse is the lowest it has been in this survey since 1997. In fact, if you look back to 1985 you see that it is the lowest level that has been recorded by that particular survey. So people are confident and optimistic about the future. It is good for our country that our country feels optimistic and confident.

There are reasons why people feel optimistic and confident about their future in Australia. Real household disposable income, the key summary measure of economic wellbeing, has increased by 28 per cent. So household disposable income has increased under this government. Unemployment, at 5.5 per cent, is at a 23-year low. The number of jobs has increased significantly, with 1.3 million jobs having been created in Australia since 1996, and they have been widely shared around Australia.

We can welcome to the House the children and companions from Camp Quality in Darwin who are visiting us today. The Territory is one of those areas which has been sharing in job creation and increasing standards of living. We have had continuous growth over the last eight years. Interest rates are at their lowest level in 30 years; inflation is down towards the bottom of the band of two to three per cent; and, best of all, at the national level, Labor's debt of $96 billion has been reduced under this government by $70 billion in net terms. That has set Australia up for much better opportunities in the future, but we cannot relax. Economic management is hard, it is difficult, and we have to maintain the pressure in relation to that. If you cannot govern a local council, you cannot govern a country. That is why it is important that we continue strong economic management in this country, that we do not lose focus, and that the coalition continues to work in relation to economic management for our children's future.