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A STRONGER ECONOMY A STRONGER AUSTRALIA
PART 1 RESTORING PROSPERITY
In eight and a half years the Coalition Government has restored Australia’s economic prosperity and implemented measures that have ensured this prosperity is spread throughout the community to workers, families, pensioners and self-funded retirees. Strong and stable economic growth, low inflation and a decline in unemployment have contributed to a significant increase in the living standards of Australians. These strong economic conditions have opened up greater opportunities. They have allowed more Australians to make their own decisions about participating in the workforce. Since March 1996 more than 1.3 million new jobs have been created and Australia’s unemployment rate has been sustained below 6 per cent for a year – the best outcome for more than a quarter of a century. A steady stream of income from regular employment has provided individuals and households with an opportunity to save, borrow and invest for their future and to contribute to the well-being of their children. Interest rates have fallen and remained low, and income taxes have been cut. These conditions have ensured that the take home pay of Australian households has risen. A frequent misconception in recent years is that the rich have got richer and the poor have got poorer – that people are being left behind. The evidence proves otherwise. A rise in household disposable income has occurred across the board. The rich and poor have both got richer. • • • • In real terms, household disposable incomes for all Australians, on average, increased by 12 per cent between 1994-95 and 2000-01. Average real household disposable incomes for low income households grew by 8 per cent. Average real household disposable incomes for middle income households grew by 11 per cent. Average real household disposable incomes for high income households grew by 14 per cent
10.0 9.0 8.0 Per cent
7.0 6.0 5.0 4.0 3.0 2.0 1.0 0.0 -1.0 Mar-88
HOME LOAN INTEREST RATES
Per cent 18.0 17.0 16.0 15.0 14.0 13.0 12.0 11.0 10.0 9.0 8.0 7.0 6.0 5.0 Jan-88
Per cent 11.0
Since 1996, Australia’s real GDP has grown by an average of 3.6 per cent each year, and inflation has averaged 2.4 per cent. In per capita terms, Australia’s GDP has increased by more than 20 per cent. Australia’s economic performance has also been amongst the best in the world. According to the OECD, over the eight years to the end of 2003 Australia’s total gross domestic product grew by more than any of the major seven industrialised countries.
GROWTH IN REAL GDP
40 Per cent change over past eight years
Lower Interest Rates
In the eight and a half years since 1996, home mortgage interest rates have averaged 7.15 per cent. This represents the best period of sustained low interest rates since the 1960s.
HOME LOAN MORTGAGE INTEREST RATE
During the 13 year period that the Labor Party was last in office, home loan interest rates peaked at 17 per cent and averaged 12¾ per cent. If home loan mortgage rates were to rise by just one percentage point, Australians who have taken out an average new home mortgage of $200,000 would be paying an extra $167 per month in higher interest payments.
The Benefits of Strong Productivity
Australia’s economic growth has been underpinned by a strong productivity performance. Structural reforms - including to the workplace relations system and the taxation system - have made Australia’s economy more flexible and dynamic. In Government, the Coalition has simplified the overly prescriptive and outdated award system. The introduction of workplace agreements has given businesses – and most importantly their employees - greater flexibility in negotiating working conditions and helped ensure that wage rises are underpinned by productivity improvements. We have introduced more effective sanctions to protect businesses from unlawful industrial action, including through the restoration of the secondary boycotts provisions, and we successfully legislated to protect junior rates of pay. At a time when fewer than one in five Australian workers in the private sector are union members, we have brought compulsory unionism to an end.
TRADE UNION MEMBERSHIP - PRIVATE SECTOR EMPLOYEES
Per cent of Workforce 40.0
The result has been fewer industrial disputes, higher real wages and restraint in the real unit labour costs of business so necessary to encourage stronger employment growth. Historic reforms to Australia’s waterfront have been achieved. These reforms have resulted in a 75 per cent improvement in the productivity performance of our ports with average crane rates increasing from 15.9 movements per hour in late 1995 to 27.8 movements per hour by the end of 2003. A result critics said could never be achieved. 4
National competition policy and other microeconomic reforms have delivered significant benefits to Australians. The Productivity Commission estimates that Australia’s GDP is 2½ per cent higher than it would otherwise have been, and Australian households’ annual incomes are on average around $7,000 higher, as a result of competition policy. Competition policy has delivered lower electricity prices, cheaper airfares and lower communication charges. Consumers have taken advantage of the convenience offered by extended retail trading hours. In Sydney and Melbourne, where supermarkets can trade all weekend, about one third of all customers do their food and grocery shopping on Sundays. The extent of the improvement in productivity across the economy is evident from the fact that the average worker in the market sector now produces 24 per cent more than he or she did in 1996. Higher productivity growth has expanded the range of policy possibilities. It has allowed low inflation to co-exist with rising profits and wages. Workers have been rewarded through real wage increases. Real wages in Australia have increased by 13.3 per cent since March 1996, compared with a rise of just 2.5 per cent over the 13 years of the previous Labor Government. More rapid increases in output per head mean faster improvements in living standards. The business sector is also taking advantage of Australia’s strong economic performance and improvement in labour productivity by investing in greater productive capacity of its own. The more competitive business environment has led to a rapid and widespread takeup of information and communications technology. A recent Productivity Commission study has found that the effects of increased use of information and communications technology on Australia’s output and productivity growth have been amongst the highest in the world, behind only the United States, Canada and the Netherlands. Over the past eight years, real private business investment in Australia more generally has almost doubled. This significant growth in productive capacity has paid off through higher profits, with the corporate profit share currently at a record high. Everyday Australians are sharing in these strong profits because more than seven million of them hold shares, either directly or indirectly.
Sharing the benefits with Pensioners
Australia’s age pensioners have shared in Australia’s recent economic prosperity through the Coalition’s decision to link the age pension to the higher of 25 per cent of Male Total Average Weekly Earnings or the Consumer Price Index. With wages rising on the back of the productivity improvements of Australia’s workers, it is only fair that these benefits are spread more widely through the community.
The new indexation arrangements were first applied in the March Quarter 1998 when the single age pension stood at $347.80 per fortnight. Had the link to the CPI alone been maintained, the pension would now be $423.10 per fortnight. Instead, with the legislated link to 25 per cent of MTAWE, the single age pension is today $470.70 per fortnight. In other words, the single age pension has increased over this time by $120 per fortnight and is currently more than $40 per fortnight higher than it would otherwise have been had the previous indexation arrangements been maintained. This provides a good example of how the benefits of good economic management can be spread more broadly to include the 850,000 Australians receiving the single age pension. For someone receiving the single age pension over the entire period from 1998 to the end of 2003, the total benefit from the improved indexation arrangement has accumulated to more than $2,500. Recipients of the partnered aged pension have likewise benefited from the revised indexation arrangements. The fortnightly benefit from the improved indexation arrangement for the one million Australians who receive the partnered aged pension is more than $36.50, and the accumulated benefit over the period more than $2,300. The Coalition’s disciplined approach to fiscal management has meant that we can afford to provide additional benefits to age pensioners. This included a one-off lump sum payment of $300 in 2001 and, as recently announced, a new utilities supplement will be paid twice a year to help pensioners pay their gas and electricity bills.
Helping Self-Funded Retirees
Before the Coalition came into office, older Australians who had saved for their retirement and who did not receive a pension began to pay income tax once their income passed the tax free threshold of $5,400. They paid more income tax than pensioners even when they had the same income. One of the first things the Coalition Government did on coming to office was to put self-funded retirees on an equal tax footing with pensioners. We raised the tax free threshold for older Australians to $11,185 so that a qualifying self funded retiree did not pay tax on their income below that amount. As part of the 2001-02 Budget, the Government provided a substantial increase in benefits available to senior Australians. A new Senior Australian Tax Offset was introduced from 1 July 2001 to replace the low income aged persons rebate and pensioner tax rebate for people of Age Pension age. The Medicare levy threshold for older Australians was also increased, so that senior Australians would not face a Medicare levy liability where they did not have an income tax liability. The Senior Australians Tax Offset combined with the low-income tax offset ensures that eligible single older Australians can have income up to $20,500 without paying tax or the Medicare levy. Similarly, eligible couples are able to have combined income up to $33,612 without paying tax or the Medicare levy.
The Senior Australians Tax Offset phases out gradually and the phase out is complete at an income of $38,340 for single senior Australians and for couples at an income of $59,244. The Coalition has also substantially widened eligibility for the Commonwealth Seniors Health Card so that singles with adjusted taxable income below $50,000 and couples with a combined income below $80,000 now receive the card. The range of benefits available to holders of the card has been extended to include certain telephone allowances and concessional travel on Great Southern rail services including the Indian Pacific, the Ghan and the Overland. In this election campaign, the Coalition announced that it will make a new payment of $200 per year to self funded retirees holding a Commonwealth Seniors Health Care Card. Self funded retirees have also benefited significantly from other tax measures introduced by the Coalition including the introduction of refundable excess imputation credits, the effective halving of capital gains tax and the 30 per cent private health insurance rebate. The Coalition recently announced that it will increase the Private Health Insurance Rebate from 30 per cent to 35 per cent for people aged from 65 to 69 years and to 40 per cent for people older than 70.
Sensible Fiscal Management: Delivering Better Social Outcomes
The Coalition’s fiscal strategy has been an integral part of the policy framework to deliver economic growth, rising employment and higher living standards. The Government has followed a primary objective of maintaining a balanced budget, on average over the course of the cycle. This ensures that it is not living beyond its means.
Per cent of GDP 2.5 2.5
-4.5 1991-92 1993-94 1995-96 1997-98 1999-00 2001-02 2003-04 2005-06 2007-08
The Coalition has a strong record on fiscal policy and fiscal sustainability. It is on track to record its seventh budget surplus and has so far repaid $73 billion of general
government net debt. At just 2.9 per cent of GDP, Australia now has one of the lowest levels of net debt in the OECD, and its lowest net debt since 1977-78. The benefits of lower government debt are apparent in the large reduction in the Government’s annual interest payments. Having peaked at $8.4 billion in 1996-97 to service Labor’s record debt, net interest payments are expected to decline to $2.9 billion in 2004-05. This represents an annual saving in interest payments of $5½ billion per year. As a result of this sensible fiscal management, the Coalition Government has been able to boost its spending in priority areas. Much of this spending goes directly to improving the living standards of Australians.
LOWER INTEREST PAYMENTS, MORE SPENDING ON THE COMMUNITY
$ billion 30.0 Assistance to Families with Children 25.0
20.0 Assistance to Families with Children Interest on Government Debt 10.0 Interest on Government Debt 5.0 Hospitals & Schools
Hospitals & Schools
Health spending, for example, has doubled since the Government came into office, from $17 billion in 1996-97 to $35 billion in 2004-05. Greater health spending is being reflected in better health outcomes for Australians. • Life expectancy for males has increased from 75.5 years in 1995 to 77.4 in 2002, while life expectancy for females has increased from 81.1 years in 1995 to 82.6 in 2002. Infant mortality has declined from 5.7 per 1000 live births in 1995 to 5.0 per 1000 live births in 2002. The proportion of fully immunised infants aged 12 to 24 months has increased from 78.6 per cent in 1998 to 91.0 per cent in 2003. Total health expenditure per person per year (in constant prices) has increased from $2,183 in 1995 to $3,397 in 2002.
• • •
The Coalition has also increased spending on schools. As a result, participation in education and training has increased substantially. Over the next four years total Australian Government spending on schools will be a record $32 billion.
Year 12 retention rates increased from 65.9 per cent in 1996 to 70.3 per cent in 2003 for males and from 77.0 per cent to 80.7 per cent for females. Vocational education and training students increased by 19 per cent from 1997 to 2003, the number of apprentices and trainees more than doubled from 1996 to 2003 and the number of higher education students increased by almost half from 1996 to 2003 More than 55 per cent of Australians aged 25 to 64 now hold post-school education qualifications, up from 48 per cent in 1996.
A more disciplined and focused approach to fiscal policy has enabled the Coalition Government to focus on other long term economic and social objectives. This year’s Budget provided a significant funding boost to the aged care sector. $2.2 billion was committed to the sector to ensure that it is able to provide affordable and quality aged care services for an ever increasing number of older Australians. A one-off $3,500 payment was made to providers for each resident in an aged care facility to improve fire safety and building standards. To ensure that all of our citizens live in a safer society, more than $3 billion has been committed on national security since September 11 2001. A total of $40 billion has been spent by the Government on defence since 1996.
Lower Taxes and Improved Family Benefits
A key aspect of the Coalition’s approach to budget management has been to offer personal income tax cuts. Three major tranches of income tax cuts have been delivered to date, with a further cut coming into effect on 1 July 2005. The New Tax System introduced on 1 July 2000 provided major income tax reform, delivering the largest income tax cut in Australia’s history. In the 2003-04 budget income tax thresholds were adjusted further and additional tax relief was enacted in this year’s Budget. These three stages of income tax reform have delivered major structural change. The tax cuts improve the rewards from working overtime, acquiring skills or seeking promotion. As a result of the changes, over 80 per cent of taxpayers face a top marginal tax rate of no more than 30 per cent. Taxpayers on average full-time weekly earnings will remain in the 30 per cent tax bracket over the coming years, even allowing for ongoing wages growth. The increase in the top threshold will make Australia’s personal tax system more internationally competitive, providing incentives for skilled Australians to stay and work in Australia. The tax relief delivered by the Coalition over the past eight and half years has been substantial. An Australian earning $35,000 per year is today paying $1,250 per year (or $24 per week) less in tax than they were when Labor was last in office. Someone of $45,000 is now paying more than $2,200 per year less ($44 per week) than in 1995. 9
INCOME TAX SCALES Labor's Tax Scales
Taxable Income $0 - $5,400 $5,401 - $20,700 $20,701 - $38,000 $38,001 - $50,000 $50,001 + Tax rate (%) 0 20 34 43 47
Tax Scales 1 July 2004
Taxable Income $0 - $6,000 $6,001 - $21,600 $21,601 - $58,000 $58,001 - $70,000 $70,001 + Tax rate (%) 0 17 30 42 47
Tax Scales 1 July 2005
Taxable Income $0 - $6,000 $6,001 - $21,600 $21,601 - $63,000 $63,001 - $80,000 $80,001 + Tax rate (%) 0 17 30 42 47
The Coalition’s tax cuts have delivered significant benefits across all income ranges. Taxpayers earning $20,000 have enjoyed a measured reduction in their income tax of 23 per cent. For taxpayers on $50,000 their income tax reduction has been 21 per cent. By 1 July 2005, a taxpayer on $90,000 will have benefited from a reduction of 18 per cent.
Assistance to Families
The Coalition has demonstrated a consistent and ongoing commitment to the role of the family in our society. Successive policy initiatives – commencing with the Family Tax Initiative announced in the 1996 budget – have recognised the financial sacrifices made by parents in raising children. The Family Tax Initiative provided a $1,000 per year increase in the tax free threshold for each dependent child in almost two million low and middle income families. For single income families with at least one child under the age of five, there was an additional $2,500 per year increase in the tax free threshold. With the introduction of the New Tax System, the Coalition further increased assistance to families with children. From 1 July 2000, new Family Tax Benefit arrangements took effect. A major simplification was undertaken with twelve previous payments replaced by three new benefits. Benefits were also increased by $2 billion per year, withdrawal rates were reduced, income test limits were increased and the assets test abolished. The Treasury has analysed the real disposable incomes of Australians before the new tax system was introduced and about one year after. The analysis found that all family types had a greater real disposable income twelve months after the introduction of tax reform. The increase in real disposable income was generally significantly higher for couples with children and sole parents than for households without children. • The analysis found that between 1999-00 and 2000-01: Couples with two children in the bottom income quintile received a real increase in average weekly disposable income of $36. Couples with children in the second bottom quintile received a real increase of $51 per week.
Couples with children in the top income quintile received an average increase in real disposable income of $32. Sole parents across all income quintiles received an average real increase of between $34 and $46 per week.
Working families in the lower income quintiles saw greater proportional increases in their disposable incomes than those in the highest income quintiles.
In the 2004 Budget the Coalition introduced a package of further assistance to families which delivers an additional $19 billion to help with the costs of raising children. This included a $600 per child lump sum payment to eligible families as well as an ongoing increase of $600 per child in the rate of Family Tax Benefit Part A. Withdrawal rates were also reduced to improve the rewards from working – especially for families where a second earner is in part time or casual work or where a woman is returning to work after having a child. The arrangements surrounding the Family Tax Benefit Part B payment – which provides extra assistance to single income families – have been made more generous, including through a higher ‘free’ area and a relaxation of the withdrawal rates. This change means that many parents who undertake part time work a few days per week will be eligible for more of the FTB (B) payment. It will improve incentives for a second income earner in a family to take up part time or casual work and will provide additional assistance for those combining work and family responsibilities. Taken together the total assistance to families has increased by more than $6 billion per year since 1996. The base rate of family assistance has increased substantially from less than $600 per child in January 1996 to almost $1,700 per child in July 2004. This represents a real increase of more than 100 per cent.
INCREASE IN FAMILY ASSISTANCE - MINIMUM RATE PER CHILD
2000 $ per child
Increase in FTB (A)
FTB Part (A)
Family Tax Initiative Family Assistance
A family on a single income of $35,000 with two dependent children (one of whom is aged under five) currently receives more than $10,000 per year from the Government in family tax benefits. In fact, for a single income family with two children the net transfers they receive mean that they do not pay tax in net terms until their family income reaches about $40,000. In other words, for many families all of the tax they would have paid is rebated by the Family Tax Benefit. An important additional element of helping families balance their work and family responsibilities is the provision of affordable child care places. The 2004 Budget provided an additional 40,000 outside school hours child care places and an extra 4,000 family day care places. Since 1996, more than a quarter of a million new places have been created in child care centres, family day care and outside school hours care – representing an increase of 85 per cent. In this campaign, the Coalition has emphasised its approach to supporting families by providing them with greater choices. Choices about their working arrangements, their family payments and about child care. New initiatives will provide extra assistance in meeting the cost of child care through the introduction of a 30 per cent tax rebate on out of pocket costs for approved child care. The eligibility rules for Child Care Benefit will also be relaxed to better support grandparents who care for children. To ensure that families continue to have choice as to the arrangements that best suit their own circumstances, the maximum rate of Family Tax Benefit Part (B) will be increased by $300.
PART 2 PROLONGING PROSPERITY
Meeting the Challenge of an Ageing Population
Australia’s continuing record of economic strength and prosperity is the envy of the world’s developed nations. A major source of this national wealth was the relative youthfulness of our population providing a growing and more skilful workforce. But birth rates in Australia have fallen since the 1970s while life expectancy has increased. With fewer babies being born and more people living longer, Australia’s population is ageing. The ageing of the population will have a substantial effect on the economy. It has the potential to drastically affect our living standards and national prosperity. Over the next forty years the proportion of our population aged over 65 will almost double to 25 per cent. Whereas in 2002 there were five people of working age to support every person aged over 65, there will only be two and a half people of working age to support each person aged over 65 by 2042.
It is estimated that the extra spending pressures arising from this development will result in required Government spending outstripping the amount it raises in taxes by 5 per cent of GDP by 2042. In today’s dollars, this would mean a budget deficit of almost $90 billion. We must act now so we can maintain our prosperity through a cohesive society without transferring an enormous burden on future generations. To do nothing would condemn our children and their children to higher taxes. To put this in perspective, personal income tax collections would need to increase by 40 per cent to increase current revenues by 5 per cent of GDP. This is not the sort of Australia we should leave to our children. Planning and preparing for Australia’s demographic challenge is one of the Coalition’s highest priorities. An Intergenerational Report was a specific requirement included in the Charter of Budget Honesty and the first such report in Australia’s history was delivered with the 2002 Budget. The IGR looked ahead 40 years and concluded that with no policy change the ageing of our population would result in: • Slower economic growth because of a lower proportion of the population in the workforce (in other words, diminished workforce participation); Increased government spending on health as a result of increasing demand for new technology and treatments (especially drug subsidies under the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme), and Increased spending on age and service pensions.
The Coalition Plan
Strong economic management has been the hallmark of the Coalition. Unless we have a strong economy, we cannot expect to be in a position to handle the problems that confront us as a nation. To meet our demographic challenges, the Coalition has set out a solution to this problem based around policies that are designed to grow the economy more quickly. The Coalition is committed to ensuring ongoing high economic growth by increasing productivity and improving labour force participation. We have put in place strategies for our economy to grow through: • • • Improving incentives to work and save for retirement Improving the capacity to work through better health and education, and Supporting improved flexibility in the workplace.
Enhancing our Productivity Performance
To maintain Australia’s outstanding productivity performance into the future, the Coalition will press ahead with reforms that free up economic activity, enhance labour market flexibility, improve the skills base of our workers competition and continue to develop a more innovative and dynamic society which embraces new technologies.
Labour Market Flexibility
The Coalition is committed to enhancing labour market flexibility. We will press ahead with workplace relations reforms which maintain and extend the framework for direct, co-operative relationships between employers and their employees. We will make workplace agreement making easier and more widely accessible. We will reduce the formality and cost of having agreements certified and we will prevent unwarranted interference by third parties. A new Independent Contractors Act will be legislated to protect and enhance the freedom to contract and to encourage independent contracting as a wholly legitimate form of work. The Coalition’s explicit commitment to pursue a full exemption from unfair dismissals laws for small business employers stands. The Coalition will also protect small businesses from new redundancy obligations.
Better Skills for Our Workers
In recent years, Australians have become more educated and skilled. We have become more flexible, adaptable and better able to use new skills and technologies. Further increasing our skills and educational attainment will be important if we are to improve our productivity. The Coalition’s Higher Education reforms will deliver much needed improvements, freeing universities to grow in areas of expertise and reducing class sizes. Combined with measures to boost innovation – through the Backing Australia’s Future package – this will mean that the education sector can continue to turn out high quality and highly skilled graduates. In addition, apprenticeship programs have nearly tripled over the last decade with more than 400,000 trainees now, compared with 140,000 in 1995. Participation in vocational education and training has grown significantly with ongoing reforms designed to deliver relevant and high quality skilled employment and training outcomes. Nevertheless with the unemployment rate at 23 year lows, Australia is facing a national skills shortage in many of the traditional trades. While this is in part a product of our great economic success, it is also the legacy of bad decisions taken a generation ago when the country turned its back on the old system of technical trades. 14
This growing national deficiency in skilling our young will be addressed through a number of initiatives, including the establishment of 24 new Australian Technical Colleges and an Institute of Trade Skills Excellence. If Australia is to maintain its strong productivity performance, we must better target and match the skills needs of industry to job seekers through improved links between industry, registered training organisations, the vocational education and training system and employment services.
Science and Innovation
Science and innovation will play a crucial role in lifting Australia’s future productivity. Developing skills, generating new ideas through research and turning them into a commercial success is a key to Australia’s future prosperity. A key feature of the Coalition’s approach to science and innovation has been the Backing Australia’s Ability package and it’s $5.3 billion successor Backing Australia’s Ability – Building Our Future through Science and Innovation. Key elements of this approach include an ongoing commitment to high quality research through additional funding for bodies such as the Australian research Council, the National Health and Medical Research Council and the CSIRO’s National Flagships Initiative. Substantial funding has also been provided for a National Collaborative Research Infrastructure Strategy which links Australian Government investment in research infrastructure to national research priorities. The Coalition has also provided additional funding for the commercialisation of research through a new $1 billion Commercial Ready Programme. Smaller programmes have also been funded by the Coalition that provide innovators with advice and financial assistance to plan their commercialization, attract capital for their project and to establish strategic partnerships to take the innovation to market.
What will happen if we succeed in maintaining our productivity performance? If we can succeed in achieving a productivity growth rate of 2¼ per cent for the next forty years – equal to the average achieved since the early 1990s – then we will go some way to meeting the fiscal challenges of an ageing population. Such an outcome would help keep the budget in surplus longer and the deficit in 2042 would be closer to 3 per cent, rather than the deficit of 5 per cent predicted in the Intergenerational Report, assuming no policy changes.
Improving Labour Force Participation
The greater supply of job options from a more flexible labour market arrangements has encouraged more people into the workforce, especially those with family and other responsibilities. However, we still have considerable potential to improve our labour force participation rates. The Coalition’s Australians Working Together package released in 2001 built on our uniquely Australian safety net to provide more choices and opportunities to people on income support to help them get a job wherever this is possible. Initiatives such as the working credit and training credits improved financial incentives to ensure that people are better rewarded when they undertake available work, even if the work is intermittent or irregular. Amongst the 30 OECD countries, Australia’s total participation ranked twelfth in 2002, suggesting that we have considerable potential to improve participation both in the short and medium term. For men aged 60 to 64, Australia’s participation rate ranked fourteenth. Today, opportunities and expectations when it comes to workforce participation are different. Part-time and casual work is more common. Most women now work before and after having children. Others who worked full-time for most of their lives (such as older men) can have problems getting back into work if they lose their jobs when they are around 45 or 50. There is also a strong trend for skilled males to retire early, well before age pension age. The Coalition has set about addressing the challenge of supporting more flexible work options for older Australians. Of the 4.8 million Australians over the age of 55, only 860,000 - or 18 per cent - are in the workforce. Mature aged workers are vital to our workforce and we need to support their on-going participation. This will be more important as Australians grow older and live longer. To further reward and encourage mature aged workers to stay in the workforce, the Coalition has announced the introduction of the Mature Aged Worker Tax Offset. This offset will be available to people over the age of 55 and will provide a maximum annual rebate of $500 on their earned income. This is an important initiative that recognises the contribution that mature age workers make to productive workplaces but also that there is a strong trend for skilled workers, especially males, to retire early. The Government has already legislated to remove any age discrimination that exists in relation to the employment of Federal Government employees. The business community has also issued guidelines aimed at encouraging big business to keep more older Australians in the workforce. The Prime Minister’s Community Business Partnership has suggested a number of practical ways to encourage the employment of more mature aged workers; change community perceptions and improved incentives to encourage older workers to remain in the workforce.
The Coalition is committed to increased flexibility in the workplace relations system to allow older workers to choose whether to remain in the workforce for longer in part time work as they approach retirement. This approach is not about forcing people to work longer. It is about letting people choose when they want to retire.
What will happen if we can improve participation rates in Australia? If Australian labour force participation rates by age and by gender gradually rise to reach the top one fifth of the current OECD experience, we will make significant inroads into meeting the fiscal challenges of an ageing population. This would imply an aggregate participation rate for the working age population of 61 per cent in 2042, compared with a projected rate of 55½ per cent on a no policy change basis and a current rate of about 63½ per cent. Such a participation rate outcome would ensure that the budget remains in surplus for about a decade longer and the deficit in 2042 would again be closer to 3 per cent rather than the deficit of 5 per cent predicted in the Intergenerational Report, assuming no policy changes.
Retirement Incomes, Superannuation and National Saving
A sound and sensible retirement income policy is essential if Australians are to enjoy a high standard of living in retirement. The Coalition’s three pillar approach to providing for retirement incomes is well established and has been endorsed by both the OECD and World Bank. These pillars are the publicly funded Age Pension; compulsory superannuation contributions; and voluntary superannuation and other savings supported by generous tax concessions. This year, taxpayers will provide more than $20 billion to fund aged pensions and a further $11 billion for superannuation through tax concessions. An additional $6 billion will be spent on income support payments to people aged 55 to 64. When combined, these arrangements provide Australians with higher levels of retirement incomes than before. The Superannuation Guarantee directs some of an employee’s current wages into superannuation accounts that will improve their standard of living in retirement. The current rate of 9 per cent provides a balance between employees foregoing current consumption for increases in living standards after retirement. On this basis, the Coalition does not intend to increase the rate. The Coalition has significantly improved the retirement income system since 1996. As Australia’s population continues to age, it will become increasingly important for our retirement incomes system to become more flexible and adaptable.
The Coalition believes that individuals should be able to choose whether to make additional voluntary contributions over and above the Superannuation Guarantee. We support this approach by providing tax concessions for voluntary savings both within and outside of superannuation. We have furthered the attractiveness of making voluntary contributions to superannuation - especially by low and middle income Australians - by introducing and expanding the superannuation cocontribution scheme. A maximum government co-contribution of $1,500 is available to match a personal superannuation contribution of $1,000 for those on incomes of up to $28,000. The matching co-contribution phases out slowly and is available to those on incomes of up to $58,000. The Coalition also announced a number of enhancements to the system to: broaden the availability of superannuation; provide more choices in financing retirement income; and make superannuation more adaptable to changing work arrangements. These initiatives include measures that remove the work test for superannuation contributions before the age of 65 and simplify the work test for those aged over 65. As people live longer and spend more years in retirement they will need their superannuation to last longer. Taking superannuation benefits as an income stream is a good way to achieve this. The Coalition has extended complying status to new market-linked income stream products which require an orderly draw down of capital over a person’s lifetime. A higher pension reasonable benefit limit and a 50 per cent assets test exemption will apply to these products purchased on or after 20 September. Previous superannuation access rules often encouraged people to retire early just so they could access their superannuation. This rule did not adequately cater for more flexible workplace arrangements whereby people may prefer to reduce their work hours as they get older. Recognising the need for older Australians to retain a connection with the workforce, the Coalition Government announced that people who have not retired will be able to access their superannuation as a non-commutable income stream once they have reached their preservation age. This measure will provide people with more flexibility in developing strategies in their transition to retirement. The passage of the Government’s Superannuation Choice of Fund legislation is a key component to the Coalition’s plan to deal with the challenges of an ageing population. Over time, it is expected that superannuation choice will contribute to an attitudinal shift, whereby Australians take a more active interest in the management of their superannuation. It is designed to increase competition and efficiency in the superannuation industry and ultimately lead to improved returns on superannuation savings and downward pressure on fund administration charges. Improved financial literacy will play an important role in ensuring that Australians are able to make sound decisions about their future financial well-being. The Consumer and Financial Literacy Taskforce has been tasked to develop a national strategy for financial literacy, targeting Australians of all ages.
Superannuation is good for individual Australians, giving them greater control over their own future. The Coalition also believes that superannuation is good for the nation. A strong superannuation system will deliver long-term benefits and make Australia financially stronger. To further increase national savings and maximise our net national worth, the Coalition has announced that it will establish a Future Fund. We know from the Intergenerational Report that future Australians will face a gap between expense pressures and revenue which will emerge over the next forty years. If we build a Future Fund now it can be used to meet the liabilities of the future which are being incurred today. The Australian Government has never fully funded its superannuation schemes for public servants and defence force personnel. Payments to superannuants are made out of recurrent revenue so that today we are paying benefits to those whose entitlements may have arisen thirty or forty years ago. A Future Fund built now can be used to pay the superannuation costs that are currently being incurred. It will reduce the call on the Budget in future years and free up recurrent revenue for the important health pressures and pressures from an ageing population that we know are emerging. Now that Commonwealth net debt is under control, the Coalition believes that future surpluses should be used to build the Future Fund to meet the liabilities which lie ahead. If we don’t act, out children and our grandchildren will be paying the debts left by previous generations.
PART 3 HARNESSING OPPORTUNITIES FROM THE GLOBAL ECONOMY
Integrating Australia into the Global Economy
The pace of Australia’s integration into the world economy has increased dramatically in recent years. A stable macroeconomic framework along with an ambitious programme of structural reforms and the adoption of new technologies have resulted in Australia becoming one of the most dynamic and competitive countries in the world. Over the past four years, Australia has moved from eleventh to fourth in the Institute of Management and Development World Competitiveness rankings. A deepening in our economic linkages abroad has promoted growth and instilled in our economy a greater resilience to adverse shocks. The Coalition’s commitment to an open and competitive economy has helped Australia to benefit greatly from increased global economic integration. Today import and exports represent almost 47 per cent of GDP, up from 39 per cent in 1995-96.
GROWTH IN AUSTRALIA'S TRADE
Per cent of GDP 50 48 46 44 42 40 38 36 34 32 30 28 26 Mar-88
Australia’s exports account for nearly a quarter of our national income and are responsible for one in every five jobs. In rural and regional Australia, exports are responsible for one in every four jobs. In addition, exporters pay wages which are on average $17,400 a year higher than non-exporters, with obvious benefits to those employed in the export sector. Australian consumers have also benefited from increased trade – cheaper imports directly benefit consumers in the prices they pay and by expanding the choices they can make. The benefits also extend to our producers through lower input costs and increased competitiveness. As Australia’s economy has opened up, the composition of our exports has changed. Mining has become increasingly important, accounting for about one third of all exports - the same contribution as was made by rural exports three decades ago. Rural exports currently contribute a little less than 20 per cent of the total. An interesting development has been the rising contribution of manufacturing exports - which have more than doubled in the past two decades. Trade liberalisation has lifted performance in the traditional traded goods sectors of the economy. However, it has also lifted performance in those sectors that might not have seen themselves as having any connection with the outside world. A good illustration of this – and perhaps the greatest export success story in recent times – is Australia’s automotive sector. Where it once supplied almost exclusively to the domestic market, it now exports successfully to many corners of the globe. Australia has also benefited from a marked increase in trade in services. Service exports - such as tourism, education and financial services – have grown by nearly 20 per cent since 1996 and now comprise over 20 per cent of Australia’s exports. By way of example, the number of overseas students studying in Australia has increased from 135,000 in 1996 to 300,000 in 2003. With the services sector representing the largest and fastest growing sector of the world economy – accounting for more than 60 per cent of global output – the export opportunities are boundless. 20
In recent years, Australia has enjoyed both stronger and less volatile terms of trade. Since 1995-96, Australia’s terms of trade has increased by close to 10 per cent. A rise in the terms of trade has allowed Australia to buy more imports for a given quantity of exports, thereby helping to raise our real incomes. One factor behind the rising terms of trade has been the diversification of Australia’s exports across both products and markets. To the extent that the rise on the terms of trade also reflects import price declines it has put downward pressure on inflation and contributed to greater economic stability. Australia has benefited from increased global integration in more ways than just through trade. A liberalisation of global capital flows has seen Australia to date attract almost one trillion dollars of foreign investment. Despite our tradition of being a significant importer of foreign capital, in recent years there has been a marked up-tick in the levels of Australian direct investment abroad. As noted by the RBA, this direct investment abroad has been undertaken by successful Australian firms that have reached the limit of their expansion domestically, but are good enough to compete and succeed in offshore markets in their area of expertise. The realities of Australia’s integration into global markets has required a policy response to better assist Australian companies competing offshore and to encourage foreign companies to invest and establish a regional presence here. The Coalition has always believed that Australian companies can successfully compete globally while remaining based in Australia. Following from a previous election commitment to review Australia’s international taxation arrangements, the Coalition has legislated changes that better enable Australian businesses and managed funds to compete for capital offshore. Australia’s tax treaty policies have also been modernised.
Australia’s International Economics Agenda
Having implemented a wide range of economic reforms that have strengthened our international competitiveness and export performance we cannot rest on our laurels. We must continually strive for better ways to do business and constantly be on the look out for new markets and ways to deepen and expand Australia’s existing trading relations. The Coalition will continue to push to open markets wherever and whenever the opportunity presents – be it with individual countries, via regional arrangements or on a global basis. We intend to take advantage of any opportunity that can deliver real benefits to Australian businesses and consumers. However, the Coalition will continue to be strategic in our trade policy choices. At the heart of any deal there must be a clearly demonstrated benefit to Australia’s national interest. While the World Trade Organisation will be of critical importance to Australia, multilateral agreements can be lengthy and complex processes. We recognise therefore that economic integration, especially specific market access, can often be addressed more quickly through individual agreements with key trading partners. 21
The Coalition’s focus in expanding bilateral trade links has centred on those countries with which we have important trade and investment relationships. An agreement has been concluded to deepen the economic linkages between Australia and Japan and negotiations are well underway to establish a new framework agreement between Australia and China. Our economic relationship with China is an important one that exhibits a high degree of complementarity. The demand for resource commodities and energy to satisfy China’s industrialisation is already having a significant impact, as illustrated by the signing of the $25 billion LNG contract between the North West Shelf Venture and the Guangdong Province. The Free Trade Agreements Australia has concluded with Singapore, Thailand and the United States will complement rather than undermine the multilateral trade agenda. The Agreement with the United States is especially significant linking Australia to a powerhouse economy. It is estimated that this agreement will result in a boost to Australia’s economy of more than $6 billion per year one decade after coming into force. All major sectors of our economy and all states and territories are expected to benefit and positive employment effects are envisaged (including additional jobs and a sustained increase in real wages). The Coalition is working hard to deepen our already extensive engagement with East Asia and our other major trading partners. Within the region Australia contributes to growth in many ways by sharing our experience in reforming markets, developing sound institutions and designing effective policy. Australia’s Pacific neighbours are being assisted in direct and practical ways to build sustainable systems of governance. This will allow them to better reap the gains from increased economic integration and raise their own living standards. To prosper in the global economy requires a Government that is committed to an open and competitive domestic economy. The Coalition is committed to doing just that.
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