Interest rates decision a setback for Gillard
Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s hopes of kicking off a year of economic debate with some good news have been dealt a blow after the central bank defied expectations and left interest rates on hold.
PRIME MINISTER Julia Gillard’s hopes of kicking off a year of economic debate with some good news have been dealt a blow after the central bank defied expectations and left interest rates on hold.
Both the prime minister and Opposition Leader Tony Abbott have nominated the economy as their main battleground for 2012, as MPs returned to parliament for the first sitting day of the year on Tuesday.
Mr Abbott, buoyed by recent opinion polls showing the opposition retains an election-winning lead, told colleagues at the first coalition party room meeting for the year they were on a “mission for our country”.
“They (the government) say they want the focus to be on the economy,” Mr Abbott said.
“If I can plagiarise, `Make my day’,” he added, referencing the words of actor Clint Eastwood in the 1971 film Dirty Harry.
Ms Gillard told parliament Labor had set the direction for the economy with policies to improve skills and training, put a price on carbon emissions and bring the budget back to surplus in 2012/13.
“This is the debate of 2012,” Ms Gillard said.
“I am very happy to say to the leader of the opposition, `Bring it on’.”
Half an hour into question time, the Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA) announced it had left the official cash rate at 4.25 per cent, surprising financial markets which had predicted a 25 point cut.
Treasurer Wayne Swan said the RBA had “struck a balance between global uncertainty on the one hand and Australia’s strong economic fundamentals on the other”.
Opposition treasury spokesman Joe Hockey said the RBA decision showed the government was getting the economic direction wrong.
“The clear message from the Reserve Bank is that the economy is fragile – that just proves that now is not the time to introduce an economy-wide carbon tax,” Mr Hockey said.
Mr Abbott also entered the debate over whether Ms Gillard was facing more criticism than previous prime ministers because of her gender.
Ms Gillard said in an interview with the Seven Network on Sunday that many voters imagined the prime minister to be “a bloke in a suit” and that having a woman leader was “taking a bit of time” for people to accept.
Mr Abbott said Ms Gillard was playing the “sexism card” because she had nothing left with which to defend her record in government.
The start of parliament was also marked by new House of Representatives Speaker Peter Slipper – who left the Liberals to become an independent at the end of 2011 – bringing back the traditional black gown worn by past holders of the office.
He also said he wanted to tighten the rules guiding MPs in the house, including reducing time limits in question time and giving members the ability to ask supplementary questions, as happens in the Senate.
Mr Slipper, who replaced Labor’s Harry Jenkins, later threw out opposition frontbencher Joe Hockey, who loudly criticised Ms Gillard for ending question time at 3.30pm (AEDT) after only nine questions.
The Speaker also plans to take up the suggestion of a 2004 parliamentary committee to change the name of the parliament’s main committee room to the “Federation Chamber”.
The main committee is a chamber formally linked to the House of Representatives in which debates can be continued and speeches made without slowing down the business of the main chamber.
As well, Mr Slipper confirmed that if it came to a casting vote in the finely balanced parliament he would support legislation in its existing unamended form.