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Reserve Bank governor Glenn Stevens has signalled interest rates are on their way back up with mortgage rates likely to edge up between half and a full percentage point.

Giving evidence to the House of Representatives economics committee in Canberra, Mr Stevens said the RBA’s focus continued to be on what mortgage rates were offered by commercial banks rather than on the Reserve’s official cash rate.

He said given the commercial banks had lifted rates over and above what the RBA had done, there was still about a half and a full percentage point to go before mortgage rates were back to what the Reserve would consider close to their long term average.

“There’s a little distance to go yet before I think you could characterise the setting of interest rates as normal or average,” he said.

The RBA surprised markets by leaving official rates on hold at its February meeting.

Mr Stevens said on top of the Reserve’s own lift in official rates, the commercial banks actions had effectively delivered three and a half interest rate rises to mortgages cases, and in the case of Westpac customers, four rate hikes.

He said one of the advantages of lifting rates as the RBA did in the last three months of 2009 was that it could hold rates in February and get a clearer picture of how the economy was travelling.

“You get that luxury when you can wait a little a bit further down the line,” he said.

Mr Stevens said Australia had performed much better than even the RBA had expected out of the global recession.

But he warned that meant the economy was now heading into an upswing stronger than otherwise would have been the case.

“With the economy having had only a mild downturn with begin the upswing with less spare capacity than would typically be the case after a recession,” he said.

“There’s less scope for robust demand growth without inflation starting to rise again down the track.

“Monetary policy must be careful not to overstay a very expansionary setting.”

Mr Stevens said the resources sector in particular was looking to grow quickly, with the terms of trade likely to head back to the record highs seen in 2008 this year.

He also highlighted the strength of Australia’s sovereign debt position, hosing down fears the country was carrying too much debt.

“Australia’s position is by any measure very strong indeed,” he said.

The governor also played down fears raised by Opposition finance spokesman Barnaby Joyce that Australia could default on its debts.

Mr Stevens said Australia had never defaulted before and there were no signs it would now.

“I very much doubt there ever will be,” he said. 

“Monetary policy must be careful not to overstay a very expansionary setting.”

Mr Stevens said the resources sector in particular was looking to grow quickly, with the terms of trade likely to head back to the record highs seen in 2008 this year.

He also highlighted the strength of Australia’s sovereign debt position, hosing down fears the country was carrying too much debt.

“Australia’s position is by any measure very strong indeed,” he said.

The governor also played down fears raised by Opposition finance spokesman Barnaby Joyce that Australia could default on its debts.

Mr Stevens said Australia had never defaulted before and there were no signs it would now.

“I very much doubt there ever will be,” he said.

Source www.thewest.com.au

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WA’s only confirmed case of swine flu has been cleared after a week in quarantine, Ten News has reported, while the nation’s swine flu tally has passed 400.

The  man, who tested positive last week after going to hospital with mild flu symptoms, was in home quarantine with his wife and their eight children.

Australia’s Eastern States has been particularly hard-hit by the flu and Victoria has recorded a massive surge in cases, most of them children.
 
By this afternoon the number of confirmed cases in the State had risen to 306, a rise of 94 in 24 hours.

Most of the new cases in Victoria also involved young people aged five to 18, prompting a twelfth Victorian school to be closed today.
 
According to Federal Health Department figures, there were 64 confirmed cases in NSW, 18 in Queensland, six in South Australia, four in the ACT, and one each in Tasmania and the Northern Territory.
 
However, Queensland Health officials say the State now has 22 confirmed cases, the latest being teenage girls.
 
Federal Health Minister Nicola Roxon said the Government was assessing whether to elevate the nation’s response to the disease from the contain to the sustain phase.
 
Victoria is already preparing to move into the sustain phase, under which quarantining is limited to those who share a home with a confirmed swine flu patient.
In the contain phase, anyone who has had contact with a swine flu patient is quarantined voluntarily and given antiviral drugs for a week.
 
The nation’s chief medical officer, Professor Jim Bishop, said the advice to people with flu-like symptoms may change as swine flu evolved.
 
At present, people who come down with flu-like symptoms, especially if they have recently travelled to an affected country, are being advised to seek medical advice.
 
Professor Bishop said in the future, fit and healthy people may be told to stay at home and only those in at-risk groups, including those with seek medical advice and asthma, will be advised to visit their GP.
 
“A lot of people that have these sorts of symptoms of course will, as this thing progresses, stay at home and not necessarily seek medical advice if in their own case it is a at-risk groups— and that we expect to see more of,” he said.
 
“As we move along in this marathon race, what we will need to do is obviously identify those people that we’re concerned about.
 
“If there is large numbers involved, we want to make sure the system is looking after people we most want to look after.”
 
The swine flu-affected ship Pacific Dawn docked in Sydney this morning after NSW Health authorities gave it the all-clear.
 

The P&O ship was forced to cut short its trip to the Barrier Reef last week when three crew tested positive for the virus.
 
A senior NSW Health doctor and 25 nurses boarded the ship in Brisbane on Saturday, testing all 2500 people on board during the two-day voyage to Sydney.
 
While disappointed the cruise didn’t go to plan, passengers said they still enjoyed the journey.
 
David Geers, from Brisbane, joked it was the perfect place to be quarantined for seven days.

 “If you had to be quarantined somewhere I couldn’t have thought of a better place … because we got fed, the drinks tasted the same and the staff were fantastic,” he told reporters at Darling Harbour.
 
More than 15,000 people in 53 countries have tested positive to swine flu, with deaths totalling 99.

Source www.thewest.com.au

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