Australia has completed 24 years of sustained economic growth, but only just.
It may be a glowing achievement since the recession of the early 1990s – standing only second to 26 and half years record previously set by the Netherlands – but the final three months of the 2014/15 financial year ended in a whimper.
The latest national accounts show the economy grew by a feeble 0.2 per cent in the June quarter, around half the rate economists were expecting.
It left the annual rate at a meagre two per cent, well below the long-term average of three to 3.25 per cent.
Treasurer Joe Hockey – coming from a government that has been promoting a renewed focus on “jobs and growth” – talked up the result, saying Australia is still doing better than many other commodity-based countries.
“Despite having the biggest fall in our terms of trade in 50 years … the diversity and flexibility of the modern Australian economy is continuing to get us through the recent massive falls in commodity prices,” Mr Hockey told reporters in Sydney.
But shadow treasurer Chris Bowen said there was nothing in the figures to boast about, and that two per cent annual economic growth isn’t enough to get the jobless rate down.
He said when the economy grew 0.9 per cent in the March quarter, the treasurer labelled anyone warning of weakening growth “a clown.
“Well Joe Hockey is a ringmaster in economic decline,” Mr Bowen told reporters in Sydney.
Mr Hockey cited a number of one-off factors, including a seven per cent fall in mining exports because of port closures forced by bad weather, for the worse-than-expected growth figure.
Canada has not been so lucky, overnight reporting it had officially fallen into recession, while New Zealand and Brazil were facing headwinds, he said.
“I tell you what, the Australian economy is showing a deep resilience that people in Canada and elsewhere would die for,” Mr Hockey said.
But Opposition Leader Bill Shorten is gravely concerned about the latest growth result and the impact on jobs.
“Every quarter since (Prime Minister Tony) Abbott and his Liberals got elected two years ago, economic growth has come in below trend and this explains why we have the highest number of unemployed people in Australia in 20 years, 800,000 people,” he told reporters in Sydney.