Australia's health still good

By Greg Ansley

Despite international praise, there are bumps in the road ahead.

As the world's 12th largest economy Australia is in good economic health but there are concerns remain ahead over the course of global events. Photo / Getty Images
As the world's 12th largest economy Australia is in good economic health but there are concerns remain ahead over the course of global events. Photo / Getty Images

Treasurer Wayne Swan bounced back from World Bank and International Monetary Fund meetings brimming with stories of the praise heaped upon Australia by his international counterparts.

There is much to be praised: long years of continuing growth despite the crises that have rocked Europe and the United States, indications of more to come, and Australia's elevation to the world's 12th-largest economy. The nation is in good economic health and, as migration figures out on Friday show, still a drawcard for almost 54,000 New Zealanders who moved there over the past year.

But there remain bumps aplenty in the road ahead, confirmed by the minutes of the Reserve Bank board's most recent meeting and successive performance indices and forecasts.

The benefits of the mining boom continue to be spread unevenly, and there are signs that its peak is likely to be lower, and earlier, than previously believed.

"Mining employment recorded a modest decline in recent months for the first time since the middle of 2009," the board's minutes said.

Evidence continues to mount of increasing pain. Social agencies report that 2.6 million people are living in poverty, up to 680,000 in New South Wales alone cannot adequately feed their families, and the income gap between rich and poor is growing.

Across the broad economy, uncertainty and caution persist. The immediate future of Europe and the US is not expected to become clear until early next year and, through the flow-on effects to Asia and commodity markets, its likely impact on Australia.

The nation is in no danger of sudden collapse, but concern remains over the possible course of global events.

The Reserve Bank, which this month cut the cash rate by 25 basis points to a near-50-year low of 3.25 per cent, points to slowing growth in Asia and Europe, and low commodity prices.

Resource industries have been hit by volatility in iron ore and coal prices, and the bank warned that mining investment might not be as strong as earlier forecast.

Business conditions outside the mining and transport sectors have remained a little below their long-run average, with the construction industry especially weak.

Chamber of Commerce surveys show investors are nervous, with most business indicators continuing to decline in the September quarter - some falling to their lowest levels since 1998. Businesses expect further declines, and full-time employment to fall.

The Government's mid-year economic and fiscal outlook will be framed with both politics and economics in mind.

Revenues are down significantly and further spending cuts are expected, but Swan is still promising a surplus as the Government prepares for next year's election.

- NZ Herald

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