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Monday, 2 April 2001
Page: 26123

Mr BEAZLEY (2:00 PM) —My question is to the Prime Minister. Have you seen the results of the Australian Financial Review's latest survey showing that the overwhelming majority of economists believe the implementation of the new tax system is the most important factor behind the economy's slowdown, well ahead of factors you like to point to such as interest rates, international factors and oil prices? Prime Minister, why won't you admit what the rest of the country already knows: that your GST has had a big negative impact on economic growth?

Mr HOWARD (Prime Minister) —I do not think the rest of the country is saying that. Certainly, the consumers of Australia are not saying it. Undoubtedly, and much to the chagrin and the disappointment of the opposition, today's retail trade figures would have been an enormous disappointment to the opposition, because they were very strong and buoyant and will not afford the Leader of the Opposition another opportunity to talk down the Australian economy. That is what the Leader of the Opposition does.

The Leader of the Opposition invites me to respond to the judgment of the community. The consumers of Australia express views through the dollars they spend in the shops of Australia. If you look at the dollars that have been spent in the shops of Australia, Mr Speaker, you will find that the retail trade increased by 1.2 per cent in February, to be 8.1 per cent higher than this time last year. The increase in February is the third consecutive increase in retail spending, following a one per cent increase in December and a 1.1 per cent increase in January, both of which have been revised upwards by the Australian Bureau of Statistics. I understand that today's outcome exceeded market expectations. The Leader of the Opposition invites me to listen to the people of Australia on this issue. The people of Australia are still spending, and the reason why the people of Australia are spending is that we went ahead with the personal tax cuts that you did not want us to go ahead with. In fact, about a year ago the Leader of the Opposition was accusing us of overheating the economy. A year ago he was running around saying, `It is terrible, they are overheating the economy.' Now he is running around talking the economy down. The reality is that the Leader of the Opposition can do no better at question time than react to the headlines in this morning's newspapers.