Scott Morrison says it is a tremendous achievement a generation of Australians has grown up not knowing a recession, but what matters is where the economy goes from here.
The treasurer says the latest national accounts show the resilience of the economy, with growth expanding by 0.3 per cent in the first three months of the year, defying expectations of some economists of a negative result.
However, the slim rise has dragged the annual rate down to 1.7 per cent from 2.4 per cent and well below the three per cent rate which is normally associated with strong employment growth.
“The results today demonstrate the continued resilience of the Australian economy,” Mr Morrison said in Canberra on Wednesday.
But shadow treasurer Chris Bowen says the economy is growing at its lowest rate since the 2008-2009 global financial crisis.
“Today’s economic growth figures provide no comfort for a treasurer and government that told us they had a plan for jobs and growth,” Mr Bowen told reporters in Sydney.
He said the treasurer’s new slogan of “better days ahead” rings just as hollow.
Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry director of economics Adam Carr said the result showed policy makers could not be complacent.
“While some of the softness this quarter is due to one-off effects, it follows surprise weakness in the September quarter as well,” Mr Carr told AAP.
However, the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development has given Australia an upbeat appraisal in its latest Economic Outlook.
It expects the economy to grow towards three per cent by the end of next year.
There is some debate among economists as to whether the latest growth result means Australia can now claim the record for longest uninterrupted expansion in modern history, having not suffered a recession since 1991, or is presently neck and neck with the Netherlands.
But according to economists at Commonwealth Bank, the Dutch may have entered a technical recession in 2003 rather than 2008, which would mean Australia surpassed the landmark four years ago.
“For Australians sitting at home, those sorts of things are less important than what is going to happen to growth in the future,” Mr Morrison said.
“A generation of Australians have now grown up without ever knowing there was a recession; I think that is a tremendous national achievement, but it’s not one that can be taken for granted.”
Household consumption, business investment, government spending and a build-up of business inventories all made contributions to growth during the March quarter, while dwelling investment and exports were a drag.
It was the second quarter in a row of business investment growth after 12 consecutive declines that reflected the end of the mining investment boom.
Adverse weather did affect iron ore exports from Western Australia in the March quarter.