Australian economy 'dealing with decline'

PETER MARTIN
Last updated 10:11 03/07/2013

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Australian Treasurer Chris Bowen has recast Labor's economic message, warning of an uncertain outlook that will require "careful management".

Bowen's comments came as the Australian Reserve Bank signalled there may be further rate cuts, after which the sharemarket soared to its best day in 18 months yesterday.

A week after former prime minister Julia Gillard said the economy was "growing, stable and strong", Bowen said commodity prices were starting to slide and mining investment was turning down.

"Demand for resources is starting to moderate, partly due to China's economic transition and transformation that it is dealing with," he told his first full press conference as Treasurer.

"Since the 2013-14 budget we have seen the price of iron ore fall by around 15 per cent and the price of gold fall by around 21 per cent," he said.

"We are seeing a transition from the investment phase of the mining boom to the production phase. The investment and construction phases were very labour intensive, soaking up workers throughout the economy. The production phase will be very different.

"Managing the transition and dealing with the decline in our terms of trade will require very careful management in the coming months and years.''

The Australian Reserve Bank was on standby to cut interest rates if needed.

''The Reserve Bank still has considerable room to move if they feel the need in coming months,'' he said. ''If we see that the economy needs more support because global growth becomes less stable or other factors change, the bank does have the capacity for further changes into the future.''

Bowen made his remarks after the Reserve Bank left its cash rate on hold at 2.75 per cent for the second consecutive month, confirming in a statement the inflation outlook ''may provide some scope for further easing should that be required''.

Asked whether he was reframing Labor's economic message now the leadership had changed Bowen said he was ''calling it as I see it''.

''I have been Treasurer now for a few days and as I see it, the Australian economy is resilient and the Australian economy has grown well, due in large part to this government's strong economic management. But as I see it there is a transition to manage,'' he said.

''You will forgive me for saying it is this government that has the skills and experience to provide that economic management. The opposition has a different approach.''

Bowen's references to strong growth were in the past tense, in contrast to Gillard, who told the Committee for the Economic Development of Australia last Monday the economy remained strong.

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Asked whether he thought the budget promise of a small surplus in 2015-16 was achievable, Bowen said he stood by the forecasts.

However, he said the economy had to be turned around ''without embarking on the massive wholesale cuts to jobs and services which Abbott advocates''.

HSBC chief economist Paul Bloxham said Bowen's remarks represented a ''distinct change of rhetoric'' from former treasurer Wayne Swan and Gillard.

- Sydney Morning Herald

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