Slowing down the economy dangerous WA Treasurer

The next eight months will be critical for ensuring we have the right policies in place to allow our economy to continue performing well in the long-term, WA Treasurer and Attorney-General, Christian Porter told the CEDA WA EPO attendees.


The next eight months will be critical for ensuring we have the right policies in place to allow our economy to continue performing well in the long-term, WA Treasurer and Attorney-General, Christian Porter told the CEDA WA EPO attendees.

He said currently there seemed to be conflicting views about how well Australia's economy was performing, which he suggested was a result of a "very deep structural change (to our economy), the likes of which we haven't seen for some decades".

On concerns around manufacturing, he said if you examine the figures it is not all doom and gloom.

"What is happening is export decline in steel manufacturing exports and car manufacturing exports is being filled by an incline in the value of exports in the things, we as Australians, always hoped would be exports, higher value instruments, things that take a great deal of education, knowledge and know-how to produce," he said.

However, he acknowledged while this is what we had hoped would happen, it was a painful process.

On the multi-speed or two speed economy, he raised concerns about the approach nationally to "try to slow down the fast lane to allow the slow lane to catch up".

"What I find concerning about this as a Treasurer is the underlying vagueness - the first rule of good public policy is always do no harm this … policy never addresses the issue of risk," he said.

"How do you expect to transfer… $16 billion of State Government revenue away from a very productive sector of the Australian economy and leave the potential future growth in that sector unmanaged. How is that possible?

"The great danger in trying to slow down your economy is that you might actually succeed."

On Dutch Disease he highlighted previous research that found not every resources surge results in Dutch Disease and even where it does, the extent might be moderate and greatly outweighed by the economic benefits to the economy.

University of Western Australia Winthrop Professor of Journalism and The Australia Contributing Editor, Peter Van Onselen, provided the political outlook, commenting that the current situation was "mildly depressing" in terms of policy coming from both major political parties.

He said that Labor sources were very frank about the likelihood of defeat at the next election and it was now a matter of trying to save seats.

However, he said Julia Gillard's one big hope was in fact Tony Abbott, because his personal numbers were low and he struggled to resonant with voters.

"Tony Abbott's problem is he does have an issue with women voters and that's not going to go away because of his socially conservative outlook," he said.

However, he said he did expect Tony Abbott would become the next Prime Minister.

"Where I get depressed about that, is the type of government that will follow," he said.

"Whatever your ideological bent, I worry that the government that Tony Abbott leads won't have a mandate to do anything , not in terms of industrial relations reforms… his only mandate is to unwind the carbon tax and unwind the mining tax which might be popular but he hasn't got the revenue measures to go with it."

At a WA State Government level, he said it was likely some of voters' frustration with Federal Labor would transfer to Labor at the state election.

He said the two biggest issues Colin Barnett needed to be mindful of were cost of living pressures - although voters were more likely to blame the Federal Government and the carbon tax - and the electoral reality of where the Barnett Government sits - being a minority government that actually needs to pick up seats if they want to govern in their own right.

NAB Economist Alexandra Knight provided the economic outlook, which was positive for WA with strong business confidence compared to other states.

In addition she highlighted that while Australia had lost 140,000 jobs in manufacturing, at the same time, 100,000 had been created in mining with more than half of those in WA.

Independent corporate analyst and author of Stock Analysis Peter Strachan discussed his concerns about the current strategy which seems to be: mine our finite resources more quickly to meet global demand.

He said it was important to minimise the impact of mining on other industries and leave something in the ground for future generations. He said the threat to the mining industry was rising prices.

"We will have peak oil in 2013, peak gas will follow in 2019, peak coal in 2025, and this will change the way we do business forever and then you've got the cost of carbon dioxide emissions," he said.

Mr Strachan also raised concerns about WAs dependence on China, commenting that history showed that countries with significant rapid growth eventually stumble and WA was particularly exposed if that happened with China.

He also touched on concerns about Dutch Disease and that we may left with just the resources sector if we are not careful. He provided the example of how the mining boom was currently affecting national security, because the military was struggling to keep technical people who were choosing to take up work in the resources sector.


Extract of Saul Eslake's contribution to CEDA's 2012 EPO publication as published in the Financial Review, 17 February 2012.

Media release

EPO publication summary