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Tuesday, 10 March 2009
Page: 1011

Senator COONAN (2:02 PM) —My question is to Senator Conroy, the Minister representing the Treasurer. Minister, is Australia in recession?

Senator CONROY (Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy) —Thank you for that question. As this government has said in being honest and straightforward with the Australian public, Australia is being buffeted by international financial circumstances. As we have said consistently, we are better placed than almost all other countries to cope with this. The last national accounts figures speak for themselves. The IMF forecasts consistently come with the proviso—the same as the Reserve Bank, the Treasury and this government, because we are being honest and straightforward about this—that all the risks are on the downside, despite those opposite living in some fantasyland for the last 12 months, dismissing the size and scale of the economic crisis, dismissing the need for swift action, with even their former Treasurer saying we should wait; we should sit on our hands to see what we should do. It is no wonder that that former Treasurer has the word ‘former’ in front of his former title, because this was a completely irresponsible position to take. Those opposite have sought to play cheap politics when what this country has needed is swift and decisive action. In November, we put forward the ESS, designed specifically to protect Australian families, and as those figures—

Senator Abetz —Mr President, I rise on a point of order. The sessional orders require that a minister’s answer be strictly relevant. He was asked a very straightforward question as to whether Australia was in recession or not. He now has 13 seconds to tell us either yes or no.

Senator Chris Evans —Mr President, on the point of order: Senator Conroy was asked a question about the state of the economy and forecasts for the economy, and he has addressed his answer very specifically to those issues contained in the question from Senator Coonan. I urge you to rule there is no point of order.

The PRESIDENT —There are 13 seconds left for you to answer the primary question, Senator Conroy. I draw your attention to the question.

Senator CONROY —Those opposite seem to want to try and avoid the substance of their own question, and that is the state of the Australian economy. My previous answer was entirely relevant to the state of the Australian economy— (Time expired)

Senator COONAN —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. As Senator Conroy obviously had some difficulty in answering the first question, could he try this one. The government’s Updated Economic and Fiscal Outlook forecasts that 300,000 more people will be unemployed by next financial year. Given that the GDP contracted by half a per cent in the December quarter 2008, will the government now revise its unemployment forecasts?

Senator CONROY (Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy) —As we made clear when we produced the recent UEFO forecasts—we actually produced and brought forward new, updated forecasts, which is somewhat unusual; it has not been done by many if any other previous governments—all the risks are on the downside. We could not be clearer. We could not be trying to hide anything. We could not be clearer than that. We have been engaged in a rigorous process to give as much information to the Australian public as it has been possible to do as the economic collapse around the world has occurred. We continue to be forthright and honest with the Australian public about the magnitude of the international crisis. There is no— (Time expired)

Senator COONAN —Mr President, I ask a further supplementary question. Now that, clearly, the economy is going backwards on the Rudd Labor government’s watch, will the government now admit that its December $10.4 billion cash splash failed to create the promised 75,000 additional jobs and was a waste of taxpayers’ money?

Senator CONROY (Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy) —Despite the claims of those opposite, including Senator Coonan here today, there is evidence that the Economic Security Strategy released last year, which those opposite voted for, has boosted consumption. Don’t let the facts get in the way of any economic truth for those opposite! The retail trade figures for the month of December released recently show our Economic Security Strategy has delivered a very solid boost to consumption at a time when our economy desperately needed it. The December retail trade figures show that retail sales increased by 3.8 per cent in December. To put this in context, this is the biggest monthly increase since August 2000. Can you imagine the do-nothing approach from those opposite, their ‘say we’ll support something one day and oppose it the next day’— (Time expired)