Scott Morrison has called for calm heads to prevail at a time when world events are “quite convulsive” in terms of both global economic and security issues.
“It is a time for calm heads, for measured conversations, for seeking to de-escalate things rather than escalate them,” the prime minister told reporters in Adelaide after addressing a South Australian Liberal Party conference on Saturday.
“That is certainly Australia’s approach as we engage with our allies and partners around the world.”
His soothing comments came after an extremely volatile week on global financial markets as fears of a US recession swirled and the US-China trade war continued to bite, which at one stage saw the Australian share market shed $60 billion in one day.
Mr Morrison used part of his speech to the party faithful attacking actions by activist group GetUp during the May election campaign.
This was later described as astounding by senior Labor frontbencher Mark Butler.
Mr Butler said this weekend Australians will be worrying about economic growth tanking, wage growth being flatter than it has have ever been, productivity going backwards and jobs being under threat.
“They will be bewildered by the fact that this government doesn’t appear to have an agenda except these right wing indulgences like attacking GetUp or building a new fleet of nuclear power stations,” Mr Butler told reporters in Adelaide.
But Treasurer Josh Frydenberg insists the foundations of the Australian economy are strong in the face of domestic and international challenges and is standing firm on the need to retain the aim of a surplus.
“Bringing the budget back to surplus is important because you do need to pay down debt when you are able to do so and for 12 years Australia been denied a budget surplus and its time we had one,” he told Sky News.
He said the government recognises there are challenges and it will continue to pursue the policies it has in place – tax cuts, infrastructure spending, new apprenticeships.
However, the Reserve Bank has repeatedly urged the government to do more, conceding there is only so much the central bank can do in terms of cutting interest rates.
Labor frontbencher Jason Clare said the share market sell-off ripped $60 billion out of people’s superannuation accounts, proving the trade war is real and is having an impact here.
“This is a real war with real costs,” he told ABC television..
“We do need to make sure we take the necessary action to combat that.”
But he says that doesn’t mean giving up on a surplus, given the government has forecast a $7 billion surplus for this financial year, leaving it with sufficient capacity to bring forward infrastructure projects.
He says while the government has $100 billion worth of infrastructure spending planned for the next decade, most of it is at the back end of that period.
Senior Nationals minister Darren Chester admits the government needs to find partners among the states to speed up the infrastructure spending, noting Victoria had been particularly slow in getting on board with projects.
He also noted that the drought is “knocking around” regional Australia.
“So to maintain economic growth in a period where there is extreme drought in large parts of Australia is a good effort,” Mr Chester told ABC television.