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Thursday, 29 October 2009
Page: 7631

Senator JOYCE (Leader of the Nationals in the Senate) (2:41 PM) —My question is to Senator Conroy, the Minister representing the Treasurer. Would the minister like to explain to us what the difference is currently between Australian interest rates and United States interest rates?

Senator CONROY (Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy) —I am, as you know, representing Senator Sherry this week, Senator Joyce. American interest rates, off the top of my head—no. I can tell you about America’s broadband speeds, if you would like an answer on that—

Senator Joyce —Mr President, I rise on a point of order. I know you find this amazing—

The PRESIDENT —I understand the answer has finished. Is that correct, Senator Conroy?

Senator CONROY —I was just about to indicate—

Opposition senators interjecting—

The PRESIDENT —Order! I will take Senator Joyce’s point of order.

Senator Joyce —My point of order is that the question may have finished but the answer actually never started.

The PRESIDENT —Senator Conroy, you have one minute and 47 seconds to address the question.

Senator CONROY —I was in the middle of saying that I agree with Senator Joyce: I had not got around to completing my answer. So, thank you for that, Senator Joyce. As I said, I am representing Senator Sherry, who represents the Treasurer in this chamber, so I do not have handy the current level of American interest rates but I am happy to get that information and pass it on to you.

Senator JOYCE —It is going to be hard work today, isn’t it, Mr President. I have a supplementary question to the question that was never answered. Are inflationary pressures due to the Labor Party’s absolutely ridiculous and profligate wasting of money due to other external factors which the minister might like to direct us to, or is the Reserve Bank wrong?

Senator CONROY (Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy) —The level of interest rates in this country, as has been indicated, has been historically low. At the moment the Reserve Bank have the view that there are some pressures that they are reacting to. Let us be very clear: the government’s stimulus package, which you described as ‘wasteful spending’, has been absolutely critical to keeping hundreds of thousands of Australians in their jobs. In fact Mr Rory Robertson, an economist at Macquarie Bank, in appearing before a Senate inquiry recently summed it up nicely. He said: ‘I think the economy at this stage remains sufficiently weak that it needs quite a bit of help.’ I think it is hard to argue right now that the economy is too strong and therefore we must stop it from growing as fast, which is effectively what pulling back would involve. Mr President, that is the entire tenor of those opposite— (Time expired)

Senator JOYCE (Leader of the Nationals in the Senate) (2:45 PM) —Mr President, I ask a further supplementary question. Does the government have any concerns about Australian working families and the current upward pressure on interest rates and what the cost of living will be for them and how they are going to find the money to compensate because of Labor’s absolute and profligate waste of money?

Honourable senators interjecting—

The PRESIDENT —Order! When we have silence we will proceed.

Senator CONROY (Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy) —I quote Reserve Bank governor Glenn Stevens from a statement he made on 28 September:

If we find that government borrowing rates are a lot higher in the years ahead, I do not think it will be because of Australia’s outcomes. It will be because there is a lot of government debt being issued around the world by countries that have really serious fiscal problems, like the Americans and the British, with double-digit deficits and 80 or 100 per cent GDP ratios for debt.

Let us be clear: those opposite have been on the wrong boat for many months now. They made the wrong call to sit on their hands and wait and see—the famous Ms Bishop call. Since then they have dug themselves into a deeper and deeper hole. They were wrong about the need for the stimulus, they are wrong on the withdrawal of the stimulus and they continued to wallow around without alternative policies. (Time expired)