Showing posts with label SPEECHES. Show all posts
Showing posts with label SPEECHES. Show all posts

Friday, July 1, 2022


Although most of us would like to think the pandemic is receding into the past and we can move on to other things, we’re starting to realise that it’s still with us and is still having a big effect not only on our health and our overstrained hospitals, but also on our economy. It’s still being greatly affected by the pandemic itself and by our response to the threat it poses to life and limb.

When the pandemic began in March 2020, federal and state governments closed our borders to travel, and locked down the national economy, so as to limit the spread of the virus. They ordered many retail businesses and forms of entertainment to close or severely limit their activities. People were required to stay in their homes and, if possible, work or study from home. Knowing this could cause much unemployment of workers, the government introduced the JobKeeper wage subsidy scheme to maintain the link between employers and their employees, even if they had little work for those employees to do. It had other spending programs to support the incomes of businesses and households, as well as particularly industries, such as housing. The first, national lockdown lasted only about six weeks, but then a second, longer lockdown became necessary for NSW, Victoria and the ACT in the middle of 2021.

Although many economists feared we had entered a severe recession, with the government spending huge sums to limit the effect on incomes the national economy bounced back strongly after the first lockdown and again after the second one. Real gross domestic product contracted heavily in the June quarter of 2020 and to a lesser extent in the September quarter of 2021, but ended up growing by 1.4 pc over the year to March 2021, and by 3.3 pc over the year to March 2022.

The strength of the economy’s bounceback can be seen in what happened to employment and unemployment. Total employment actually grew by about 60,000 over the year to March 2021, and by about 390,000 over the year to March 2022. This meant that, although the rate of unemployment shot up to 7.5 pc in July 2020, it had fallen back to 5.7 pc by March 2021 and to 3.9 pc in March 2022. By June, it had fallen to 3.5 pc, its lowest in 50 years. Because most of the new jobs created have been full-time, the rate of under-employment has also fallen considerably. There is a shortage of suitable labour, with the number of job vacancies now at record levels. Yet another sign of how “tight” the labour market is: the “participation rate” – that is, the proportion of the working-age population participating in the labour force either by working or actively seeking work – is at a record high of 66.8 pc.

Why is the jobs market so tight? Partly because of the massive economic stimulus applied to the economy by governments, but also because the closure of our borders for two years has cut off employers’ access to what you could call “imported labour”. So job vacancies that normally would have been filled by backbackers, overseas students and skilled workers on temporary visas have either had to go to locals, or go begging. Our borders have now been re-opened to foreign workers, so the labour market’s present tightness is temporary, but it’s likely to take more than several months for the inflow of foreign workers to return to normal.

As I’m sure you know, the pandemic has led to big changes in the settings of both fiscal policy and monetary policy. Those changes do much to explain where the economy is now and what the economic managers must do ensure we stay on the path of material prosperity.

Starting with fiscal policy, the former Morrison government had just got the budget back to balance when the pandemic arrived in early 2020. It’s decision to limit the spread of the virus by locking down the economy, while using the budget to protect the incomes of households and businesses, ended any prospect of returning the budget to surplus. Instead, the lockdowns caused a big fall in tax collections, while the spending and tax cuts to protect household and business incomes cause the budget to return to huge deficits, peaking at a record $134 billion (6.5 pc of GDP) in 2020-21, then falling to an expected $78 billion (3.4 pc) in the present financial year, 2022-23. Note that, even if the government had not decided to lockdown the economy while protecting incomes, the economy would still have slowed and the budget returned to deficit as many people took their own measures to protect themselves from the virus by avoiding crowded shops and venues and staying at home as much as possible. The government’s response to the pandemic and the huge budget deficits it led to added to its already-high level of public debt, causing the gross debt to rise to an expected almost $1 trillion (43 pc of GDP) by June 2023. Despite its own promises of further government spending and tax cuts, the new Albanese government will try to reduce prospective budget deficits and limit further growth in the debt in the budget it will announce in October.

Turning to monetary policy, low world interest rates and weak growth in our economy had the cash rate already down to 0.75 pc before the pandemic. In March 2020 the RBA cut the rate to 0.25 pc and, some months later, to 0.10 pc. It began engaging in unconventional monetary policy – “quantitative easing”, QE – by buying second-hand government bonds so as to reduce government and private sector interest rates on longer-term borrowing. Since it paid for these second-hand bonds merely by crediting the exchange settlement accounts of the banks it bought the bonds from, this had the effect of creating money. Note that the resulting increase in the RBA’s holdings of government bonds meant that about $350 billion of the government’s gross debt of nearly $1 trillion has been borrowed not from the public but from the central bank that is owned by the government.

The RBA’s most recent forecast is for real GDP to grow by a super-strong 4 pc this calendar year, but slow to a relatively weak 2 pc in 2023. But this prospect has been upset by the emergence of a new problem. For about six years before and during the pandemic, the problem was that the rate of inflation was too low, falling below the RBA’s 2 to 3 pc inflation target. But by the end of last year, 2021, the annual inflation rate had risen to 3.5 pc and by March 2022 it had risen to 5.1 pc. It’s expected to rise further over the rest of this year, reaching a peak of about 7 pc before starting to fall back slowly towards the target rate next year.

The first thing to note is that the rise in prices has been a global problem, with largely global causes. Inflation has risen in all the advanced economies, and by more than it has in Australia. In the US and many European countries, it’s up to about 10 pc, the highest rate in decades.

There are three main causes of this sudden reversal in inflation. Two of the three are “imported inflation” and all three involve problems and price rises coming from the supply side of the economy, rather than price rises caused by excessive demand. The first and most important is the major interruptions to global supply chains caused by the pandemic and, in particular, by the spending of locked-down households switching from services to goods. The increased demand for goods led to shortages of container ships and containers themselves, shortages of computer chips and many many other things, including timber and other building supplies. When the demand for goods exceeds their supply, business tend to increase their prices. These effects are temporary, however, and many supply bottlenecks are easing. But the problems China is having in coping with the pandemic suggest there may be further supply disruptions to come.

The second major global and imported source of higher prices is Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which has caused major disruptions to the global markets for energy and food. But recently world oil, wheat and other commodity prices have fallen somewhat.

The third major, but little-noticed source of higher prices is also global and on the supply side: climate change. This is true even though its effects are specific to Australia. Restock of herds following the end of the most recent drought has seen beef prices rise by 12 pc over the year to March and by about 30 pc over the past three years. Lamb prices rose by 7 pc over the year to March and by 30 pc over the past four years. All the recent talk of paying $10 for an iceberg lettuce is a product of all the flooding in Queensland and NSW this year.

To these three causes the RBA adds a fourth factor, coming from the demand side of the economy: the strong demand for goods during the pandemic has allowed businesses to pass any rise in their costs on to customers, without fear of losing business. There has also been some increase in wage rates but, as yet, there is little sign employees have sufficient bargaining power to achieve wage rises of more than 3 pc or so, meaning wages are likely to continue falling in real terms.

In response to the rise in inflation, the RBA began a series of rate rates during the election campaign in May. In three months it has lifted the cash rate from 0.1 pc to 1.35pc, and is expected to continue raising it until it has reached “more normal levels” of at least 2.5 pc. It is moving the “stance” of monetary policy from the pandemic’s emergency levels of stimulus to a “neutral” stance – that is, a rate that’s neither expansionary nor contractionary. In other words, it is taking its foot off the monetary accelerator, not jamming on the brakes. Its goal is to ensure that excessive demand in the economy doesn’t cause temporary inflationary pressure coming from the economy’s supply side to become entrenched, rather than having inflation fall back to the 2 to 3 pc target range over the next year or two. It hopes to achieve this without causing a recession – which won’t be easy.


Thursday, June 16, 2022


Aurora College Economics HSC Study Day, Sydney

Every year there’s some event in the news that’s relevant to your study of the global economy, and this year it’s Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. This has combined with the continuing disruptions to supply caused by the pandemic to greatly increase imported inflation in all the advanced economies. These supply-side price rises have interacted with the huge fiscal stimulus the rich countries used to support their economies during the lockdowns to give them worries about continuing high rates of inflation. Most of the advanced economies have been increasing interest rates to slow their economy’s growth and ensure inflation does not become entrenched.

There’s nothing new or special about one country attacking another, but the invasion of Ukraine has major implications for the global economy for two reasons. First, because Russia is a major supplier of oil and gas to Europe, and the reduction of this trade has caused big increases in the world prices of all fossil fuels. Russia and Ukraine are also major exporters of wheat and other food, and the reduction in this trade is raising world prices and causing many countries to worry about having enough food. Second, world trade has been further disrupted by many countries siding with Ukraine and imposing economic sanctions on Russia, including restraints on its financial transactions. The point is that our more globalised world economy – where countries are more closely integrated by trade and financial flows – has caused a war between two countries to significantly affect far more economies than would have happened in earlier times.

The pandemic

It’s the same story with the pandemic. There’s nothing new about epidemics starting in one country then spreading to many other countries. It’s been happening for millennia. Even so, it’s the world’s worst pandemic since the “Spanish” flu epidemic immediately after World War I, and the first where the greater economic integration of the world’s countries – and particularly, the huge number of people at any time flying around the world on jumbo jets – caused the virus to reach all corners of the world in a few weeks rather than years. But globalisation and co-operation between pharmaceutical companies in different advanced economies – plus billions in government subsidies – have also helped us produce effective vaccines in record time, thus greatly reducing the pandemic’s economic and social disruption.

With the pandemic now in its third year, it’s easier to see its effect on world trade. International trade fell after the start of the pandemic in 2020, but recovered sharply in 2021, to be back to pre-pandemic levels in 2022. However, not all countries and not all products are back to where they were. In many countries, the lockdowns saw a surge in demand for goods (which could be bought without leaving home) and a corresponding decline in demand for services (many of which couldn’t be, including tourism, overseas education, and live entertainment). The sudden surge in demand for imported goods (including cars) led to shortages of shipping containers and ships, and hence delays and higher prices. There was a worldwide shortage of semiconductors (chips). Many other shortages and bottlenecks occurred, but these are being resolved. However, China’s continuing difficulties in controlling the virus via lockdowns, is likely to lead to continuing supply shortages in the rest of the world and possibly a recession in the Chinese economy.


The OECD defines globalisation as “the economic integration of different countries through growing freedom of movement across national borders of goods, services, capital, ideas and people”.

That’s a good definition, but I like my own: globalisation is the process by which the natural and government-created barriers between national economies are being broken down.

Globalisation’s two driving forces

With this definition I’m trying to make a few points. One is that globalisation has had two quite different driving forces. The one we hear most about is the decisions of governments around the world to break down the barriers they have created to limit flows of goods and money between countries by reducing their protection of domestic industries and by deregulating their financial markets and floating their currencies.

But the second factor promoting globalisation is just as important, if not more so: advances in technology – including advances in telecommunications, digitisation and the internet, which have hugely reduced the cost of moving information and news around the world, as well as increasing the speed of its movement. This has allowed a huge increase in trade in digitised services. As well, advances in shipping – containerisation, bigger and more fuel-efficient ships – and in air transport have led to increased movement of goods and people between countries.  

Globalisation is a process

Another point my definition makes is that globalisation is a process, not a set state of being. Because it’s a process, it can go forward – the world can become more globalised – or it can go backwards, as national governments, under pressure from their electorates, seek to stop or even reverse the process of economic integration. Among the advocates of globalisation there has tended to be an assumption that the process of ever greater integration is inevitable and inexorable. That was always a mistaken notion.

Earlier globalisation

The process of globalisation is and always was reversible. People should know this because this isn’t the first time the process of globalisation has occurred and then been rolled back. The decades leading up to World War I saw reduced barriers and greatly increased flows of goods, funds and people between the old world of Europe and the new world of America, Australia and other countries. But this integration was brought to a halt in 1914 by the onset of a world war. And the period of beggar-thy-neighbour increases in trade protection, to which countries resorted in response to the Great Depression of the early 1930s, greatly increased the barriers between national economies. Indeed, in the years after World War II, the many rounds of multilateral tariff reductions brought about under the GATT – the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, which has since become the World Trade Organisation – were intended to dismantle all the barriers to trade built up in the period between the wars.

The era of hyperglobalisation

The period between the end of World War II in 1945 and the late 1980s saw huge growth in trade between the advanced economies, as a consequence of those successive rounds of tariff reductions. But from the late ’80s until the global financial crisis and Great Recession of 2008 there was a period of “hyperglobalisation” in which trade between the developed and developing countries grew hugely. This was partly because of the way the digital revolution and other technological change broke down the natural barriers between countries. But also the result of the eighth and final “Uruguay round” of the GATT in 1994 reducing tariff and other trade barriers between the developed and developing countries.  Many poor countries joined the new WTO at this time, with China joining in 2001.

One measure of the extent of globalisation is the growth in two-way trade between countries (exports plus imports) as a proportion of gross world product (world GDP). Between 1990 and 2008, global trade rose from 39 pc to 61 pc of GWP – the period of rapid globalisation.

Note that the poor countries did well out of the quarter-century of rapid globalisation. Between 1995 and 2019, real GDP per person in the emerging economies more than doubled, whereas in the advanced economies it grew by only 44 pc (after allowing for differences in purchasing power).

The era of deglobalisation

But the end of hyperglobalisation can be dated to the global financial crisis in 2008, and the new era of “deglobalisation” has continued during the pandemic. Two-way trade as a proportion GWP fell after the global financial crisis, and even by 2019 had not regained its peak in 2008.

Among the signs of deglobalisation are Britain’s vote in 2016 to leave the European Union – Brexit – and thus to reduce its degree of economic integration with the rest of Europe – a decision most outsiders see as involving a significant economic cost to the Brits’ economy. Second, the Trump administration withdrew from the Trans Pacific Partnership, an agreement between the US and 11 other selected countries (including Australia) to reduce barriers to trade between them – although the remaining 11 finalised an agreement without the US.  Third, the Trump administration withdrew from the Paris global agreement on reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Fourth, Trump launched a trade war with China. President Biden has re-joined the Paris agreement and repaired America’s relations with its allies, but continues the contest with China.

The temptation of returning to protectionism

The period of hyperglobalisation saw the shift of much manufacturing from the rich countries (including Australia) to China and other developing countries with cheaper labour. But it’s likely that, in the period of slower growth that followed the global financial crisis, some countries yielded to the temptation to return to protecting their domestic industries against foreign competition, returning to the (failed) strategy of growth through “import replacement” rather than “export-led” growth. Regrettably, this trend is being led by the two biggest developing economies, China and India. China has raised its import barriers against many Australian exports.

This trend has continued during the pandemic, with The Economist magazine reporting that countries have passed more than 140 special trade restrictions during the pandemic. Some of these may arise from concerns in the rich countries over the lack of availability of personal protective equipment, or vaccines. Worries about the pandemic’s disruption of global supply chains may be another reason for the return of protectionist attitudes in the advanced economies.

The channels of globalisation

The four main economic channels through which the world’s economies have become more integrated are:

1) Trade in goods and services

2) Finance and investment

3) Labour

4) Information, news and ideas.

Trade is probably the channel that gets most attention from the public. Donald Trump’s populist campaigning against globalisation focused on the belief that America’s greater openness to trade – particularly with developing countries – has caused it to lose many jobs, particularly in manufacturing, as cheaper imports caused many domestic producers to lose sales, or as factories have been moved offshore to countries where wages are lower, without America receiving anything much in return.

Surprisingly, financial globalisation didn’t get as much blame as it could have for the global financial crisis and the Great Recession it precipitated. Most countries have not liberalised the flow of labour into their economy in the way they have the other factors of production.

Income distribution and the gains from trade

One of economists’ core beliefs is that there are mutual gains from trade. Provided the exchange of goods is voluntary, each side participates only because it sees some advantage for itself. This is undoubtedly true, but in the era of renewed globalisation we’ve been reminded that, though the gains may be mutual, they are not necessarily equal. Some countries do better than others.

Similarly, the benefits to a particular country from its trade aren’t necessarily equally distributed between the people within that country. When, for example, a country imports more of its manufactured goods because they are cheaper than its locally made goods, all the consumers who buy those goods are better off (including all the working people), but many workers in the domestic manufacturing industry may lose their jobs.

Another factor that has been working in the same direction is digitisation and other technological change which, in its effect on employers’ demand for labour, seems to be “skill-biased” – that is, it tends to increase the value of highly skilled labour, while reducing the value of less-skilled labour. It seems likely that, between them, trade and technological advance have worked to shift the distribution of income in America, Britain and, to a lesser extent, Australia, in favour of high-income families and against many middle and lower-income families.

The unwelcome surprise many politicians and economists have received from the high protest votes for Brexit, Trump and One Nation is causing them to wonder if too little has been done to assist the workers and regions adversely affected to retrain and relocate, and too little to ensure the winners from structural change bear most of the cost of this assistance.

Shares of the World Economy, 2021

GWP Exports Population

China          19   13     18

United States   16     9         4

Euro area (19 countries)   12   26         4

India     7     2       18

Japan     4     3         2

Advanced economies (40) 42   61       14

Developing economies (156) 58   39       86

            100 100     100

Source: IMF WEO statistical appendix; GWP based on purchasing power parity                 


Sunday, May 1, 2022


 The pandemic isn’t over, but with most of our population vaccinated, we can hope that the worse of it is over and it won’t greatly disrupt the economy in future. Australia has had great success in containing the virus, and the “coronacession” has proved to be much shorter and shallower than expected. The economy has bounced back from each of the two periods of lockdown, the unemployment rate has fallen to its lowest in almost 50 years and strong growth of a bit over 4 pc is expected in calendar 2022. However, global supply-side shocks have lifted the inflation rate to 5.1 pc over the year to March, and it’s expected to go a bit higher before it starts falling back. To ensure the strong economy doesn’t cause the once-only supply-side price rises to get built into the wage-price spiral, the Reserve Bank has begun increasing the official cash rate to withdraw the “extraordinary monetary support” put in place to help the economy through the pandemic. The government is likely to come under pressure from macro-economists to tighten fiscal policy somewhat for the same reason.

Why the “coronacession” was shorter and shallower than expected

What I call the “coronacession”, which ended Australia’s record run of almost 30 years without a recession in the March quarter of 2020, proved to be much shorter and shallower that originally feared. The initial, nation-wide lockdown in the economy caused real GDP to contract by more than 7 pc in the March and June quarters of 2020. The unemployment rate peaked at 7.5 pc in July 2020, and the under-employment rate peaked at 11.4 pc in September 2020. But, to everyone’s surprise, GDP rebounded strongly in the following two quarters, to end 2020 just 1 pc below where it was in December 2019. Then followed a second lockdown in NSW, Victoria and ACT, which caused real GDP to contract by 1.9 pc in the September quarter of 2021, before bouncing back with growth of 3.4 pc in the December quarter after the lockdown ended. By coincidence, the net growth in real GDP over the two years to December 2021 was also 3.4 pc.

The latest figures for the labour market, for March 2022, show net growth in employment of more than 390,000 jobs in two years, almost all of which were full-time. The rate of unemployment had fallen to 4 pc and the rate of underemployment to 6.3 pc. The participation rate was at a record 66.4 pc, and the proportion of the working-age population with jobs at a record 53.8 pc. Remember, however, that this amazing performance was assisted by the temporary closing of our borders to “imported labour” during the worst of the pandemic. Immigration has now resumed.

Four main factors explain why the coronacession proved shorter and shallower than originally expected. First, the virus wasn’t as virulent as first feared by epidemiologists and our hospital system was stretched but not overwhelmed. We took advantage of our island status to close our borders, all states co-operated in limiting the spread of the virus, a vaccine became available and was distributed far sooner than originally expected, and we didn’t have a big problem with anti-vaxxers or people refusing to wear masks.

Second, the coronacession can’t be compared with an ordinary recession. Whereas ordinary recessions are caused by weak demand by households and firms, the corona recession was caused by a government-ordered temporary cut in supply, as federal and state governments sought to suppress the virus by closing our borders, ordering many industries to cease trading, and requiring people to leave their homes as little as possible. This meant that, when the lockdowns were lifted, people and businesses were able to resume (almost) normal activity. The JobKeeper wage subsidy program was designed to keep workers attached to their employers until the lockdown ended. The temporary JobSeeker supplement was intended to help anyone who did lose their job to keep spending. The two programs were highly effective.

Third, the rebound strategy was hugely effective in restoring employment to roughly where it was before the lockdown. However, the rate of unemployment has fallen by more than would normally happen in response to such a rise in employment. This is because the closing of our border to immigrants caused the size of the labour force to grow by about half the rate it normally does, thus making it easier for increased employment to lead to reduced unemployment.

Fourth, when you remember the massive amount of fiscal stimulus the federal government has applied – more than $300 billion, or about 15 pc of GDP - it shouldn’t be so surprising that the economy has grown so strongly. What this proves is that fiscal stimulus works.

Households have yet to spend much of the stimulus money and ordinary income they received over the past two years. Household saving as a proportion of household disposable income is an unusually high 13.6 pc, and households have an extra $240 billion in bank accounts. Because of this, and because so many people have jobs, the outlook for the economy at present is unusually strong. Real GDP is expected grow by a huge 4 pc or more in calendar 2022, but slow to a below-trend 2 pc in 2023 (because population growth won’t be back to normal). The unemployment rate is expected to fall further to 3.5 pc.

The return of inflation

Like all the advanced economies, Australia had enjoyed low inflation in the RBA’s target range of 2 to 3 pc on average since the mid-1990s. But over the past few quarters we’ve been hit by an unusual coincidence of global supply-side price shocks arising from disruptions caused by the pandemic, by Russia’s attack on Ukraine causing a big increase in oil and gas prices, and even by climate change, with restocking since the end of the severe drought causing a jump in beef and lamb prices. The “headline” inflation rate rose to 5.1 pc over the year to March, while the “underlying” rate rose to 3.7 pc. Both are expected to rise further, with the headline rate getting to about 6 pc before starting to fall back. As a consequence of this return to inflation well above the target range, and with the economy growing strongly, in early May – during the election campaign - the RBA began increasing the official interest rate.

The policy mix returns to normal

For many years, the “policy mix” was for monetary policy to be the primary policy instrument used to achieve “internal balance” – to smooth the path of aggregate demand as the economy moves through the ups and downs of the business cycle  – with fiscal policy playing a subsidiary supporting role. This worked well when the primary policy problem was seen as high inflation rather than high unemployment.

But when the economic disruption of the pandemic arrived, with its need to lockdown the economy, the policy mix reversed, with fiscal policy becoming the main instrument, and monetary policy playing the supporting role. Governments always resort to fiscal stimulus during recessions, but this was especially necessary in the response to the pandemic because the official interest rate was already down to 0.75 pc when it began, leaving little room to cut it further.

Now, however, with the econocrats’ need to ensure the surge in imported inflation doesn’t get built into the wage-price spiral, inflation has become the big worry and monetary policy has returned to primacy in the policy mix. In any case, this year’s budget papers say the government has transitioned to the second phase of its medium-term fiscal strategy which is to “focus on growing the economy in order to stabilise and reduce debt”.

Now let’s turn to the basic facts you need to know about the two arms of macroeconomic management and how they are now being used to continue the economy’s recover from the coronacession while returning inflation to the target range.

The monetary policy “framework”

Monetary policy - the manipulation of interest rates to influence the strength of demand - is conducted by the RBA independent of the elected government. With the recovery from the coronacession now well under way, it has returned to being the primary instrument by which the managers of the economy pursue internal balance - low inflation and low unemployment. Monetary policy is conducted in accordance with the inflation target: to hold the inflation rate between 2 and 3 pc, on average, over time. The primary instrument of MP is the overnight cash rate, which the RBA controls via market operations.

Recent developments in monetary policy

Because of the seven successive years of below-trend growth since 2011-12, the Reserve Bank cut its cash rate from 4.25 pc at the end of 2011 to 0.75 pc at the end of 2019. It’s not hard to see why it kept the official interest rate low and getting lower for so long: the inflation rate had been below its target range; wage growth has been weak, suggesting no likelihood of rising inflation pressure; the economy had yet to accelerate and had plenty of unused production capacity, and the rate of unemployment showed little sign of falling below its estimated NAIRU of 5 pc, which the RBA revised down to 4.5 pc before the arrival of the pandemic.

Then the advent of the virus led the RBA to cut rates twice in one month, March 2020, lowering the rate to 0.25 pc. Despite its previously expressed reservations, it also joined the US Federal Reserve and other major central banks in engaging in quantitative easing, QE. It announced its intention to buy sufficient second-hand government bonds to ensure the “yield” (interest rate) on three-year bonds was about the same as the cash rate. And, to ensure the banks keep lending to small business during the recession, it announced it was prepared to lend to them at the same rate as the cash rate.

In November 2020, the RBA cut the cash rate even further to 0.1 pc, along with the target for three-year government bonds. It announced the further measure of spending $100 billion every six months buying second-hand government bonds with maturities of 5 to 10 years. Note that all the QE measures were intended to lower the interest rates paid by governments and private firms on longer-term borrowing. The RBA’s total purchases of second-hand bonds worth more than $350 billion are equivalent to it funding more than all the government’s fiscal stimulus by merely “printing money”.

In May 2022, following news that the inflation rate had jumped to 5.1 pc, the RBA announced its decision to raise the cash rate by 0.25 pc points to 0.35 pc to “begin withdrawing some of the extraordinary monetary support that was put in place to help the economy during the pandemic”. This would “start the process of normalising monetary conditions” and returning to “business as usual”. Ensuring that inflation returns to target over time “will require a further lift in interest rates over the period ahead”. If the goal were to return the real cash rate to “neutral” – that is, neither expansionary nor restrictive – at about 2.5 pc (the mid-point of the inflation target) by the end of 2023, the cash rate would have to be increased by 0.25 pc points every month or so. Note that this will involve the RBA taking its foot off the accelerator, so to speak, not jamming on the brakes. The RBA also announced that, having ended further QE bond purchases in February, it would now move to QT – quantitative tightening – by not “rolling over” (renewing) its bond holdings as they reach maturity.

Fiscal policy “framework”

Until the arrival of the pandemic, fiscal policy - the manipulation of government spending and taxation in the budget – had been conducted according to the Morrison government’s then medium-term fiscal strategy: “to achieve budget surpluses, on average, over the course of the economic cycle”.

Since the coronacession, however, the government has adopted a two-phase strategy. Phase one, the economic recovery plan, involved huge fiscal stimulus to promote employment, growth and business and consumer confidence. It was to remain in place until the unemployment rate was “comfortably below 6 per cent”. Phase two now involves a “focus on growing the economy in order to stabilise and reduce debt”. “This underlines the commitment to budget . . . discipline and provides flexibility to respond to changing economic conditions,” the budget papers say.

Recent developments in fiscal policy

At the time of its election in 2013, the Coalition government expressed great concern about the high budget deficit and mounting public debt it inherited, resolving to quickly get on top of both. But it turned out to lack enthusiasm for either cutting government spending or increasing taxes. And the years of below-trend growth caused by secular stagnation meant the debt kept growing and the budget didn’t return to balance until 2018-19. Mr Frydenberg was expecting the budget to return to surplus in 2019-20, but this was overturned by the pandemic, which caused the budget’s automatic stabilisers to go into reverse and return the budget to a large deficit. The government’s massive fiscal stimulus has added further to the deficit and public debt.

The budget deficit reached a peak of $134 billion (6.5 pc of GDP) in 2020-21, and is expected to fall to $80 billion (3.5 pc) in 2021-22, $78 billion (3.4 pc) in the coming financial year, 2022-23, then have fallen to $43 billion (1.6 pc) in 2025-26. The budget is projected still to be in a deficit of 0.7 pc of GDP in 2032-33. The gross federal public debt is projected to reach a peak of 44.9 pc of GDP ($1.1 trillion) in June 2025, before beginning a slow decline as a proportion of national income.

With the election over, the government is likely to come under pressure from macro-economists to tighten fiscal policy somewhat and reduce the budget deficit, so as to hasten the decline in the public debt as a proportion of GDP, as well as to help monetary policy return inflation to the target range.