Spectre of recession raised as Australia ramps up for election

Morrison pledges to create 1.3m new jobs and warns that Australians will face higher taxes should Labor win the ballot in May


CANBERRA • Prime Minister Scott Morrison (picture) raised the spectre of Australia slipping into recession if the Opposition wins office, as he put the government’s management of the economy at the centre of his campaign for re-election.

The prime minister pledged to create 1.25 million new jobs over five years and warned that Australians will face higher taxes should the Labor party win the ballot expected in May. In his first major economic speech of the year yesterday, Morrison was scheduled to highlight the government’s record of reducing unemployment and keeping the economy ticking into its 28th consecutive year of growth.

“At this next election, only half of those of voting age will have experienced a recession during their working lives,” Morrison said, according to extracts of the speech released by his office. “I do not want Australians to learn just how important a strong economy is to each of them by enduring the cruel lessons of a weaker economy” under Labor.

The implied warning of a recession risk is a political gambit by a government that’s consistently trailed the Opposition in opinion polls after years of infighting and policy inertia. The latest Newspoll published in the Australian newspaper yesterday showed Labor leads the Liberal-National coalition government by 53% to 47% — down from a 10-point lead last month.

Morrison is seeking to deflect attacks that his government is in disarray after three key ministers announced in the past week they won’t contest the election and will quit politics.

“Day after day, we see fresh chaos and continuing disunity in the government,” Labor leader Bill Shorten told reporters in Melbourne on Monday.

“This is a government that’s lurching from crisis to crisis, and in the meantime the big issues are just not getting addressed.”

Morrison’s best chance of a turnaround in the polls is promoting his stewardship of the economy, while attacking Labor’s flagship proposals, including Shorten’s pledge to scale back tax perks for property investors and curb concessions for shareholders receiving dividends.

The government does have a decent economic story to tell: A hiring boom, a budget returning to surplus and solid growth that’s helped Australia avoid recession for 27 years. Still, there are some concerning signs, including a housing market downturn and weak wages growth that are threatening household spending.

Strong immigration and resource exports mean Australia’s economy automatically expands about 2.5% so it would require a significant domestic or global shock to send it into reverse.

In an interview with the Australian Broadcasting Corp yesterday, Morrison was asked whether he was explicitly warning the economy would slip into recession under Labor. He avoided using the term, saying instead “the economy will be weaker under Shorten and Labor”. — Bloomberg