Australians get early Christmas gift

Millions of Australians were given cash from the government's piggy bank Monday and ordered to go on an anti-recession spending spree, dpa reported.

"Go out and spend the money," Prime Minister Kevin Rudd said as he waved goodbye to half the 21-billion-Australian-dollar (13-billion-US-dollar) budget surplus built up over the previous six years. "By spending their payments, families and pensioners will help create Australian jobs and strengthen the Australian economy."

Even 50,000 Australians living abroad will find that Canberra has deposited money in their bank accounts.

CommSec economist Craig James welcomed the cash hand-outs, warning that economic growth in the September quarter was just 0.1 per cent and that the spending package was needed to avert a recession.

"It's certainly going to push us closer to positive growth rather than negative growth," he said.

Australian Retailers Association head Richard Evans said those in receipt of the money - mainly pensioners and couples with young children - should get rid of it pronto.

"If people are saving for a rainy day, I can tell them that it's pouring outside," he said. "If they don't spend it, they're likely to put their job at risk."

Because shops are full of stuff made abroad, the global economy will be stimulated too. In fact, some economists argue that factories in China will benefit the most.

Australia Greens leader Bob Brown went public with qualms about Rudd's injunction to spend rather than save. He noted that debt propelled the globe into the financial crisis and that paying off debt was more sensible that buying more expensive Christmas presents.

"I think he would have been much wiser to have told people to be good managers, to use the money wisely, and to invest it," Brown said. "Make sure you keep a little aside for the unforeseen that are coming down the line in a time of global financial crisis."

Australians have more debt on their credit cards than even Americans. The country itself has run a current account deficit on the balance of payments for more than a decade because of its reliance on foreign capital for investing in mines and farms.

Finance Minister Lindsay Tanner urges people not to fret about debt but get to the shops and spend.

"There are obviously some people who have very significant debt but people can make their own decisions, their own choices," he said. "If everybody retreats into their shells then that will make the situation much worse."

An avalanche of cash, delivered in a one-off payment of thousands of dollars to low-income households, has welfare agencies worried, said opposition Liberal Party welfare spokesman Tony Abbott.

"Certainly there are very credible fears that at least some families are going to be spending this money on booze and gambling and so on and that's a pity," he said.

Outback towns with large Aboriginal communities are bracing for a surge in domestic violence as cheques are cashed and pallets of alcohol shifted.

National Seniors Association spokesman Michael O'Neill claimed almost all the 10.4 billion dollars would be wisely spent.

"There'll be no plasma televisions or Lamborghinis being bought out of this money, you can bet on that," O'Neill said. "It'll go on day-to-day things like a cup of coffee on a weekly basis with friends, or going to the movies."

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