Reserve Bank of Australia governor Glenn Stevens has indicated interest rates are likely to stay low for years or until non-mining businesses have the courage to invest again.
Australian companies were waiting for someone else to act and take risks to grow to provide evidence of demand, when it was up to them to act, Mr Stevens said.
As mining investment and income growth falls and household debt and unemployment rises, he suggested there was little danger of the economy overheating to raise rates above the current 2.5 per cent level.
“Inflation is well under control and is likely to remain so over the next couple of years,” Mr Stevens told a Committee for Economic Development of Australia dinner.
“In such circumstances, monetary policy should be accommodative and, on present indications, is likely to be that way for some time yet.”
It was not unusual that stronger growth and confidence was taking a while to rebound after the global financial crisis, but inevitably it would, he said.
“With business capital spending, sometimes we find a few years later we look back and it actually was starting a bit earlier than we knew at the time,” Mr Stevens said.
“We have to get to the stage where shareholders are not saying to the board `just keep giving us dividends and give us the capital back’. People are saying `what are you doing to invest our money for the future?’.”
He said a fall in the overvalued Australian dollar would help and market forces would eventually force it down.
However, interest rates overseas were well below Australia’s, making our currency attractive and he expected overseas market turbulence in the near future.
He also said recent speculation about regulatory changes to tighten Australian banks’ lending standards were not aimed at curbing construction activity but making sure a housing price boom doesn’t turn to a bust and stifle economic growth.
It should be possible to extend the current period of above-average building activity for longer than the normal upswing, Mr Stevens said.
House prices had risen since 2011 and lending to households was rising, especially lending to housing investors, Mr Stevens said.
The resulting increase in housing supply was helpful, he said, and wished other parts of the economy were doing well.
Even so, the pattern of price rises and lending growth “should prompt a reasonable observer to ask the question whether some people might be starting to get just a little overexcited”, he said.