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Thursday, 11 September 2003
Page: 19890

Mr FORREST (2:43 PM) — My question is addressed to the Treasurer. Would the Treasurer advise the House how the Howard government's economic policies have helped to make the Australian economy more flexible and more resilient? How has this contributed to jobs growth?

Honourable members interjecting

The SPEAKER —The member for Mallee will repeat his question. He will be heard in silence.

Mr FORREST —My question is again addressed to the Treasurer. Would the Treasurer advise the House how the government's economic policies have helped to make the Australian economy more flexible and more resilient?

The SPEAKER —The member for Lyons is warned.

Mr FORREST —Would he further advise how this has contributed to jobs growth?

Mr Sawford —How many full-time jobs?

Mr COSTELLO (Treasurer) —I thank the honourable member for Mallee for his question. Can I inform the honourable member for Mallee and the honourable member for Port Adelaide that the ABS today reported that, in the month of August, the number of jobs increased by 80,600 and the number of full-time jobs increased by 63,500. I thank the honourable member for Port Adelaide for his dorothy dixer! The questions tend to be more searching when they are asked from this side of the House.

I believe that all Australians will welcome the fact that there was strong jobs growth in the month of August and I believe both sides of the House will welcome the fact that unemployment has now fallen below six per cent in Australia. The remarkable thing about this is that this has occurred at a time when Australia's prospects internationally have been more adverse than probably at any other period in the last 20 or 30 years. This was during a quarter when we had global weakness, negative growth in four of the G7 countries, negative growth in all of the Asian tigers, recession in two of the G7 countries, the worst drought in Australian history and the SARS epidemic. In the face of all of those factors, which I described recently in Thailand as a quarterly tsunami coming together on the export front, the Australian economy continued to grow and jobs growth increased.

All Australians will welcome the fact that Australian consumers appear to be very confident, supported by low interest rates, supported by income tax cuts, which came into effect on 1 July, and now supported by strong employment outcomes. The Prime Minister has already compared these sorts of outcomes to the outcomes that Australia had to suffer during the early part of the 1990s under a Labor government. To put this in context, the last time the unemployment rate was below six per cent was for a short period of seven months in late 1989 and January 1990. To go below six per cent—to find a comparable figure—you would have to go back to October 1981. I cannot recall who was in government in 1981! In 1981, unemployment was 5.9 per cent.

Mr Gavan O'Connor —What was the deficit?

Mr COSTELLO —The deficit was $10 billion. That was the deficit. I thank the member for Corio for his interjection. When this government came to office, the deficit was $10 billion, Commonwealth debt was $96 billion, the home mortgage interest rate was 10.5 per cent and unemployment was 8.2 per cent. Let us come to today. The budget is in surplus, Commonwealth debt has been reduced from $96 billion to $32 billion, home mortgage rates have come down from 10½ per cent to 6.5 per cent and the unemployment rate has come down from 8.2 per cent to 5.8 per cent.

The Australian Labor Party fought this government every step of the way in relation to economic reform. If the Australian Labor Party had had their way, we would have never balanced the budget. They opposed all of the measures that were required to balance the budget and said it would cause a recession. That is when they had Gareth Evans as their economic spokesman. When we reformed the tax system they opposed all of the measures, and that is when they had the member for Hotham as their shadow Treasurer—WTG. Don't you recall him saying at the time that if we reformed the taxation system then we would have a recession?

There remains in the Senate $1.5 billion of measures from not this year's budget but last year's budget, which the Australian Labor Party still refuse to pass in the long-term interests of Australia. We can stop today and we can say, `A low unemployment rate is a good thing.' It will move around over forthcoming months. But the tragedy is this: things in Australia could be so much better. That is the tragedy. If the Senate passed—

Mr COSTELLO —The member for Hotham—WTG. The member for Werriwa—NBTC: no better than Crean. Things in Australia could be so much better. If the Senate would pass our labour market reform we could give more jobs and we could lock in low unemployment. If the Senate would pass the PBS reforms we could put PBS on to a sustainable basis. If the Senate would pass welfare reform we could get participation up in this country. The thing that stands between better policy in this country and where we are today is the Australian Labor Party.

The SPEAKER —Order! The member for Wills might care to save himself from himself.

Mr COSTELLO —To the Australian Labor Party we say again: get out of the way. Let the government get on with its reform program. You tried to stop the reforms of the past. Look at the outcomes. Please do not try and stop the reforms of today because the opportunities for Australia could be so much better.