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Australia: This is why Australia hasn't had a recession in more than 25 years

Australia is close to seizing the global crown for the longest streak of economic growth thanks to a mixture of policy guile and outrageous fortune. But the nation is creaking under the weight of its own success.

While growth is being underpinned by population gains and resource exports to China, failure to spur productivity has meant stagnant living standards and electoral discontent; a property bubble fueled by record-low interest rates has driven household debt to levels that threaten financial stability; and a timid government facing political gridlock could lose the nation’s prized AAA rating as early as May because of spiraling budget deficits.

Australia’s last recession -- defined locally as two straight quarters of contraction -- occurred in 1991 and was a devastating conclusion to eight years of reform designed to create an open, flexible and competitive economy. But it also proved cathartic, paving the way for a low-inflation, productivity-driven expansion.

As momentum started waning, China’s re-emergence as a pre-eminent global economic power sent demand for Australian resources skyrocketing, helping shield the nation from the worst of the global financial crisis. But the post-crisis return of the boom proved ephemeral, failing to boost government coffers and pushing the local currency higher, eroding competitiveness and driving another nail into the coffin of a fading manufacturing sector.

“There’s no country on Earth that’s derived more benefit from the rapid growth and industrialization of China over the last 30-odd years than Australia,” said Saul Eslake, an independent economist who’s covered Australia for over three decades. “After the end of the mining-investment boom, high immigration is helping us avoid a statistical recession, but it’s also contributing to other problems” like soaring property prices and household debt.

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