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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2004 Week 3 Hansard (10 March) . . Page.. 978..

MR QUINLAN (continuing):

recorded 5.2 per cent growth. Only Queensland, South Australia and Western Australia exceeded that figure. We are in the leading group.

Employment is strong at 174,300 persons employed at January 2004. Unemployment is down at 3.8 per cent. Retail trade is still bubbling along at 5 per cent, which is, let us say, the punters' vote of confidence in the prospects for the ACT.

There are some risks and we should be mindful of them. There is, of course, a possible decline in the trend of building approvals. There has been a marginal decrease, but fortunately that decrease is marginal. Similarly, building commencements have contracted but, again, have only contracted marginally.

The bottom line is that the government of the ACT is getting a big tick for its financial performance by independent third parties.

MR HARGREAVES: Mr Speaker, I ask a supplementary question. Treasurer, how do these impressions of the ACT budget fit with expectations about the future economic performance of the ACT?

MR QUINLAN: That is a very important question, Mr Hargreaves. We, as a government, of course, look forward rather than back. There are main issues that one might look at for the future-issues such as wage growth, employment expectations and business conditions. As members should be aware, a great proportion-60 per cent-of economic activity is generated through wages and salary payments. Recent evidence suggests that a fair proportion of the ACT employment base has received salary adjustments greater than CPI. It is a two-edged sword and we will have to absorb salary increases. Public sector wages costs increased by 4.9 per cent as at the end of December 2003, the private sector grew at 4 per cent, while the CPI is running at 2.7 per cent. So we have greater spending power, real growth in spending power, in the ACT and that portends for continued economic activity.

Let us take jobs growth. The ANZ job ads are up over the year to February by 71/2 per cent. The Hudson report on employment expectations reveals that over January through March, 41.6 per cent of small and medium businesses expected to increase staff levels while only 61/2 per cent anticipated a reduction. A net 35 per cent of businesses expect to grow.

Let us take the Sensis business index. In November 2003, Sensis recorded a net balance of 78 per cent of small to medium businesses, indicating that 82 per cent of business held positive expectations whereas 4 per cent held negative expectations. This is the highest net balance among the states and territories and the highest ACT net balance on record.

So, Mr Speaker, according the Access Economics, Moody's, Standard and Poor's, and surveys of ACT businesses, the economy is in the very best of hands.

Bushfires-cabinet briefing

MR STEFANIAK: My question is to the Chief Minister. I refer to your response to a question from Mr Smyth on 4 March 2004 concerning the cabinet briefing on 16 January. You stated:

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