29 Jul 2013

Optimism expressed about Australian economy

3:39 pm on 29 July 2013

The best days of Australia's mining boom might be over, but there is cautious optimism about the country's economic future.

New analysis from the Grattan Institute shows the mining boom created a windfall for the whole country.

But economist Jim Minifie said successive governments have given away the benefits of the boom through tax cuts and increased spending.

"National income, which is the value of what we produce, was increased by the boom by 13%," he said. "That's been spread around the economy as the exchange rate adjusted.

''You could say that successive governments have given away the benefits of the boom in the form of tax cuts and increased spending ... Broadly governments have treated this windfall just as if it were recurrent income.

Dr Minifie said the report pointed to resilience in the manufacturing sector.

However, he said the government needs to ensure the labour force is properly prepared for the shift in the economy.

"Going forward, the blue collar boom is not necessarily going to support those people as it has ... the past six or eight years ... Strong attention on skills and participation and education is going to become critical."

The ABC says another report by BIS Shrapnel reveals the construction sector is poised to take centre stage in the post-mining boom economy.

Associate director Kim Hawtry said the next 12 months will be a critical test of how quickly construction can take over from mining as the major driver of economic growth.

"We're really in for a real nail-biter because the upswing in building that the economy needs will be coming through, but it's going to be uneven and it's going to be slower to get going than usual," he said.

Home building

Mr Hawtrey said home building in New South Wales, Queensland and Western Australia is expected to pick up in 2014 and 2015, but activity in Victoria, South Australia, the ACT and Tasmania will stall.

''New South Wales will, we think, take the lead, especially Sydney,'' he said.

"Population growth is running very strongly, affordability is at the best it has been for a long time, and the NSW Government is also making progress on removing those planning barriers.

"So, we're fairly optimistic that Sydney will be at the forefront of this recovery."

Once it gets moving, Mr Hawtrey said it will be a quality recovery which will spread across all sectors.

But he says the building industry is much like a sick patient, and the recovery may take time to get going.

He's concerned that a lowering of interest rates is still not stimulating the building sector, and that will weigh on the Australian economy in the coming year.

"If you think of antibiotics being like interest rates, and the patient is not well, and the antibiotics are taking longer to work this time around," he said.

"There's a number of reasons for that. High household debt has built up over a 20-year period, concerns about the global economy following the global financial crisis, planning restrictions in some states and lack of land supply."

Generational change

The ABC reports Mr Hawtrey also said generational change is also proving to be an obstruction to growth in the construction sector.

"Demographic changes, the baby boomers who once were the drivers of home construction are now in a sense putting a brake on building as they prepare for retirement," he said.

"Younger people for their part are somewhat discouraged by affordability barriers and some changes to first-home-buyer grants that have come through in the last 12 months."

"The next 12 months will be a critical test of how the construction sector can take on more of the heavy lifting in the Australian economy as the mining boom cools down."