Treasurer Joe Hockey disagrees with John Howard that Australia is entering a period of “sub-par” economic growth.
However, new figures suggest the former prime minister may be on the money.
As the government continues to promote its renewed focus on “jobs and growth”, the Westpac-Melbourne Institute leading index suggests the economy has been losing momentum through the middle of the year after a promising start to 2015.
The index indicates the likely pace of economic activity three to nine months in the future.
Westpac chief economist Bill Evans said the lack of momentum going into 2016 might raise doubts about the generally-held view that next year will be better than 2014 and 2015.
Questioned prior to the index’s release, Mr Hockey said he didn’t accept Mr Howard’s view of growth.
But he conceded the government had to work harder as it faced “significant headwinds”.
Parts of the economy, especially manufacturing, health care and education, had to be raised because they would bring massive job opportunities, he said.
“As a result of the free trade agreements we are negotiating and have negotiated, there are going to be more jobs and better paid jobs for more Australians, no doubt about that,” he later told parliament.
The government has been keen to talk-up recent job figures as a sign of strong employment growth.
But other data from one of its own departments suggests labour market conditions are likely to remain subdued.
The Department of Employment on Wednesday said the number of job vacancies posted on the internet is now 152,600 – or 49.8 per cent – below the March 2008 peak.
“This suggests that labour market conditions are likely to remain relatively subdued, at least in the neat term,” it says in its July vacancy report.
Shadow treasurer Chris Bowen blamed Prime Minister Tony Abbott for years of talking down the economy, and for making a plethora of broken promises.
“Instead of building up Australia’s economic prospects and creating new jobs, Tony Abbott is only interested in the next ridiculous scare campaign and protecting his own job,” he said.
In July, the number of job vacancies advertised on the internet rose by a seasonally-adjusted 1.8 per cent, compared to a month earlier, to be 2.9 per cent higher than a year earlier.