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SYDNEY: Australia’s annual inflation rate hit 5.1 per cent in the March quarter, the highest recorded since 2001, according to official data released Wednesday.

“The CPI recorded its largest quarterly and annual rises since the introduction of the goods and services tax,” said Michelle Marquardt of the Australian Bureau of Statistics.

The jump in the consumer price index – powered by fuel and housing costs – was even higher than analyst expectations and has increased speculation that Australia’s central bank may raise interest rates as early as next week.

It would be a bold move for the avowedly apolitical Reserve Bank of Australia, which would not want to be seen to be affecting the country’s current election campaign. The last time the RBA raised rates during an election period was in 2007.

But pressure is rising after the United States, New Zealand and Canada increased their rates.

The rising cost of living has been a key issue in the election campaign, with the conservative Liberal government Wednesday handing a one-off Aus$250 payment to millions of Australians.

The government also cut a tax on fuel after prices spiked in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Similarly, unaffordable housing has become a hotly debated subject in Australia, with mean house prices hitting Aus$920,000 – and Aus$1.2 million in the most populous state of New South Wales – according to the statistics bureau.

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