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Tuesday, 20 September 1983
Page: 966

Mr HOWARD —My question is directed to the Treasurer. Does the honourable gentleman recall telling the House in his Budget Speech that the employment gain should exceed 130,000 by the end of the financial year? Did he further say in that Speech that employment should grow by about 1 1/2 per cent, or about 90,000 , over the course of this financial year? As those statements are clearly in conflict, which represents the true prediction by the Government? In the light of the loss of 52,000 jobs in August and the recent survey of manufacturing industry which indicated further job losses to come, does the Treasurer wish to amend whichever of these Budget forecasts he really meant at the time, along with any consequential projections based upon them?

Mr KEATING —Contrary to what the honourable gentleman said, the Westpac survey of manufacturing industry was perhaps the most optimistic for a long time. Respondents expect that new orders and output will expand significantly in the December quarter of 1983 and that the general business outlook will improve over the next six months. This last mentioned result is the most optimistic for quite a while. A net 31 per cent of respondents expect the general business situation to improve in the next six months as compared with a net 4 per cent who expect a decline at the June quarter. So the sort of Cassandra proposition we have had again from the honourable gentleman is not supported by the findings of the survey.

I might also mention that the 130,000 figure which the Government mentioned was consistent with the projection of 1 1/2 per cent, or 90,000, growth in employment through the year because the 130,000 was a figure we picked up from the time that the Government came into office in March, inclusive through to 30 June 1984.

Mr Howard —That is a 15-month figure, then, is it?

Mr KEATING —Yes, and we did not try to disguise the fact that it was a 15-month figure. I made that quite clear. The Deputy Leader of the Opposition obviously does not listen to what is said. What we said was that it would be 90,000 through the year, a 1 1/2 per cent employment growth. The honourable gentleman referred to the recent survey, which showed a decline of 19,500 in August in the number of persons employed and which the Government indicated was disappointing. The movement in employment in August is well within the normal range of the monthly variation in the survey-based employment statistics. It is not possible, therefore, to draw on one month's figures and to conclude that there is a new downward trend in employment, and that such a downward trend has been established. After all, this is a sample survey; it is not a head survey. The Government believes that it will take other surveys to see whether there is any movement in that trend.

Given the fact that the Westpac survey is optimistic, and that there is a development of optimism in the economy, particularly in the business sector, about the medium term strategy adopted by the Government, the fall in interest rates we have seen recently augurs well, as do the Government's projections for the decline of inflation. All are ingredients of business confidence. It is a sad fact that the Liberal Party of Australia has to get up here and try again to pour scorn upon the Government's attempts to revive the economy. We reject those conclusions, and we believe that the Budget strategy and the figures contained therein are still very much on track.