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Tuesday, 27 March 2001
Page: 25705

Mr CREAN (2:43 PM) —My question is to the Prime Minister and I refer to his claim that last quarter's national accounts data was caused by the Reserve Bank's interest rate policy. Have you seen the statement by Reserve Bank Deputy Governor Grenville rejecting that claim and stating:

The GST, exchange rate and oil squeezed cash flow and profits. When this is combined with the disruption and general choler associated with the introduction of the new tax regime, small and medium business confidence took a hit—

and his comments about—and again I quote him:

... the degree of confidence-sapping annoyance with the administration of the GST.

Prime Minister, instead of blaming everyone else, why don't you listen to people like the Reserve Bank deputy governor, who has now joined the growing list of people blaming your GST?

Mr HOWARD (Prime Minister) —I thank the Deputy Leader of the Opposition for that question. I will make a couple of points in reply. The first is that in the remarks that I made on radio in, I think, Perth the day after the national accounts figures were released, I did not, as the deputy opposition leader falsely—deliberately, probably—alleges, claim that I blamed the December quarter on the interest rate increases. I did not. What I did say in reply to a question regarding the interest rate rises last year is that I thought that there were errors in relation to them. But I further reply to the deputy leader's question by saying: why don't I listen to the deputy head of the Reserve Bank? I will do that and I suggest that the Deputy Leader of the Opposition listen to the same Dr Stewart Grenville and read his speech in toto. You will find out a number of interesting things. Firstly, you will find out that he claimed, in relation to the December quarter national accounts, that they revealed that effectively 95 percent of the economy continued to grow at close to four per cent. That is what Dr Grenville said. You will find that Dr Stewart Grenville said in that speech—and I invite the Deputy Leader of the Opposition to have a look at it—that the fundamentals of the Australian economy were extremely strong. If you read the speech, you will find that you should stop talking down the economy. That is another thing that Dr Stewart Grenville said. He said that you should stop talking down the economy.

Mr HOWARD —Now you should stop talking down the economy—both of you. You are the prime doomsayers of Australian politics at the present time. You think that you have a vested political interest in badmouthing the Australian economy but, in the long run, people who badmouth the national interest pay a very heavy political price. You may not be paying any political price at the present time but, in the long run, the damage you are trying to do to the Australian economy will catch up with you.

Mr SPEAKER —The Deputy Leader of the Opposition is warned!

Mr HOWARD —I am glad that the Deputy Leader of the Opposition raised Dr Stewart Grenville's speech. I thought that he might have raised it yesterday actually. I brought some notes along for it yesterday and I was a little disappointed. But I invite him to read it. I invite him to find Dr Stewart Grenville—

Opposition members interjecting—

Mr HOWARD —Dr Stephen Grenville—who is, first of all, ticking him off for talking down the Australian economy and, secondly, confirming the fact that according to their view—

Mr SPEAKER —The Chair is under an obligation to be as evenhanded as possible in managing debate. If I allowed the Prime Minister to interject as frequently as the Leader of the Opposition interjects, the place would be in turmoil. I expect the Leader of the Opposition to show more restraint. The Prime Minister has the call.

Mr HOWARD —Whether the Deputy Leader of the Opposition's name is Simon or Stephen, he is still talking down the Australian economy. But I do invite the Deputy Leader of the Opposition, through you, Mr Speaker, to very carefully read the speech of the deputy head of the Reserve Bank because you will find in it confirmation of the analysis which has been given by the Treasurer and confirmation of the analysis that has been given by me. What he drew attention to was the strong economic fundamentals of this country. He drew attention to the fact that the personal tax cuts overcompensated for the introduction of the GST; he drew attention to the successful interest rate policies of this government; and he drew attention to the fact that we had dramatically reduced national debt. It is very clear from a reading of that speech that he is a person who analysed with admiration the economic performance of this government and it contains, for the Deputy Leader of the Opposition—whatever his name may be—a stark reminder of the dangers of talking down your own economy.

Mr SPEAKER —The member for Prospect clearly will not be content unless she is warned.