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Monday, 7 March 2005
Page: 36


Senator SHERRY (3:02 PM) —I move:

That the Senate take note of the answers given by the Minister for Finance and Administration (Senator Minchin) to questions without notice asked by Senators Sherry and George Campbell today relating to the economy and interest rates.

In question time today Labor posed a number of questions on key economic issues to the Minister for Finance and Administration and Minister representing the Treasurer, Senator Minchin. These questions follow the release of some important economic data last week with respect to interest rates, the current account deficit, national debt and economic growth. This follows a series of questions the opposition has been asking not just about figures relating to last week but with respect to the general economic performance of the Australian economy, particularly over the last three or four months.

Today we have seen, as we have seen on previous occasions, an arrogant, out-of-touch and complacent display from the Liberal government economic ministers. Over the last 10 years in the Senate—and it has been 10 years of Liberal government—time and time again we have had ministers, such as Senator Minchin, boasting about the Liberal government’s economic performance and its economic credentials, boasting about how good things are in a whole range of areas. They have continually talked about interest rates, government debt and economic growth, and they have taken all the credit. I do not find that surprising.

These ministers have continually reminded the Australian people that the Liberal government was responsible for a range of economic data, which they acclaimed were good economic data. More often than not, they have found it very convenient to do two other things. Firstly, they ignore any bad economic data—and there have been some bad economic data over a long period. The current account deficit and household and personal savings have not been good areas of economic performance under this government. If they do not want to ignore the bad economic data, they adopt a second strategy: if there is bad economic data, you blame someone else. So they take the credit for good economic data and blame someone else for the bad economic data—the blame game; blame someone else.

This blame has been ratcheted up in recent times. In the past we have had drought blamed for poor economic circumstances, we have had the SARS disease, we have had the Asian economic crisis and now we see a new range of individual organisations responsible for bad economic data. The states have been blamed, the Public Service has been blamed, Labor has been blamed—now the Senate is being blamed. All the time, the government cannot front up when there is some bad news. After 10 years, you would think they would take a little bit of responsibility and at least front up and honestly admit, ‘We could’ve done better in this particular area.’ But, no, we get the blame game all the time. Good economic news, take the credit; bad economic news, everyone is to blame but the Liberal government! We are seeing more and more of that as we are given bad news on economic data and fundamental issues about the Australian economy.

I mentioned that household savings in Australia—together with the United States—is almost the lowest, if not the lowest, of any advanced economy in the world. Our current account deficit, which is the deficit of imports over exports, now stands at 7.1 per cent of gross domestic product. Not only is that a record current account deficit for Australia but, again, it is the highest—even significantly higher than the United States—current account deficit amongst the 15 advanced economies. That is adding to the national debt of this country.

There was an interest rate rise last week. This government has continually talked about interest rates. At the last election it said—or certainly implied—that interest rates would not go up under a re-elected Liberal government. What happened? Interest rates went up by one-quarter of a per cent last week. We have the highest interest rates in the advanced economic world. (Time expired)