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When One Nation was a plan, not a party

AAP logoAAP 31/12/2016 Colin Brinsden, AAP Economics Correspondent

The economic numbers might change, but the political slogans are pretty much the same as they were a quarter of century ago.

The Keating government of 1992 was promising to restore 'jobs and prosperity' after what has so far turned out to be Australia's most recent recession in 1991.

Like Treasurer Scott Morrison today, it was also pledging to return the budget to surplus "as soon as possible".

Back then One Nation was prime minister Paul Keating's headland statement to change the Australian economy, rather than today's political party that is trying to change Canberra politics.

One Nation was Keating's plan to combat then Liberal leader John Hewson''s ambitious Fightback! agenda, which included the then ill-fated idea of introducing a GST.

Keating's measures ranged from income tax cuts, a one-off family allowance payment and a $2.3 billion infrastructure program.

A projected four per cent growth rate was viewed as "optimistic" by commentators at the time.

Cabinet documents for 1992 and 1992, released by the National Archives of Australia, show Keating's tenure as prime minister got off to a difficult start in late 1991.

The Australian dollar slumped and the jobless rate was fast tracking past 10 per cent, a figure not matched since the Great Depression.

By June it had passed 11 per cent, nearly double what it is today.

"There was certainly pressure for action." Australian National University history professor Nicholas Brown says in an overview of the 1992/93 period.

Like Morrison's budget, the nation's finances under then treasurer John Dawkins were deteriorating.

In January 1992, the deficit had ballooned 12 per cent to $5.4 billion from the previous year's budget forecast and by May it had risen to $9.5 billion.

In 2016, the deficit was just shy of $40 billion, although to be fair former Liberal treasurer Peter Costello did achieve a surplus in the interim.

Keating still had big shiny things to sell and in December 1992 the cabinet was briefed on the possibility of a further privatisation of the Commonwealth Bank, finding "no economic reason" to maintain its 70 per cent holding.

The cabinet was told a sell-down to 50 per cent could yield about $1 billion.

Despite high unemployment and big deficits, Keating managed to secure a second term of government in 1993 after Hewson's infamous birthday cake stumble over GST.

It would be another seven years before a GST would be introduced by John Howard and Costello.

One thing the One Nation plan did deliver was a touch of honesty, something that gets lost in the spin of today's political spin.

"After seven years of growth, Australians are now experiencing hard times. Nearly a million people are out of work. Families are worried about the future," Keating conceded in its introduction.

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