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Wednesday, 10 February 1999
Page: 2337

Dr WASHER —My question is addressed to the Prime Minister. Can the Prime Minister inform the House of any recent indicators of the strength of the jobs market? What is the government doing to maintain the momentum for further job creation?

Mr HOWARD (Prime Minister) —I thank the honourable member for Moore who has asked this question which goes to the heart of what the Australian community is really interested in and what the Australian community expects of its elected representatives in the national parliament, which is a focus on job generation.

I am very pleased to draw the House's attention to a statement summarising a survey released today by Morgan and Banks. Under the title `Phenomenal Job Growth', the Morgan and Banks survey indicates that Australian employers are exhibiting extremely high levels of optimism, with over one-third, namely 35.6 per cent, saying they will put on staff in the next three months. Morgan and Banks Ltd, Australia's largest recruitment firm, surveyed 3,206 employers to formulate the job index. They say it is the most optimistic and the best result that has been produced since the index was inaugurated in 1995.

Mr Geoff Morgan, the joint managing director of Morgan and Banks had this to say:

For the first time ever, an overwhelming mood of optimism has been recorded across all industry sectors.

Let me say that again, in case anybody sitting opposite did not understand the import of that statement:

For the first time ever, an overwhelming mood of optimism has been recorded across all industry sectors.

This is a direct result of the policies pursued over the last three years by the government I am proud to lead. This is a direct result of the coalition government getting the budget in order. This is a direct result of the lowest interest rates we have had for 30 years. It is a direct result of the low inflation we have had. It is a direct result of the measures we have taken to build economic growth and economic confidence. Fifty-four thousand new jobs were created in December alone, and more than 400,000 new jobs have been created since the coalition came to power.

But, at 7.5 per cent, everybody would agree that the unemployment rate is still far too high. There is a responsibility on us on this side and there is a responsibility on you on the Labor Party side to take further policy steps to bring that unemployment rate down. And you will have an opportunity over the next few weeks in the Senate to make a decision as to whether you are going to knock off our unfair dismissal regulation. Because, if you do that, you will destroy the job prospects of 50,000 Australians in small business. If you and the Australian Democrats continue to oppose the measures that we have put forward to entrench junior wages within the Australian employment system, you will be putting at risk the jobs of several hundred thousand young Australians.

I say to the Australian Labor Party: if you want to build on the momentum so clearly evidenced by the Morgan and Banks survey, if you want to make a contribution to getting unemployment lower than 7.5 per cent, you will drop your opposition to our unfair dismissal regulation, you will drop your opposition to our attempt to protect the jobs of 300,000 or 400,000 young Australians and you will join the government in further measures to free up the labour market, consistent with the maintenance of the Australian safety net system which has been a cornerstone of our policy since we were elected in March of 1996.

We have the best opportunity in this country for almost a decade to really achieve a big breakthrough on the unemployment front. We have high economic growth, we have a very strong Australian economy, we have booming business confidence, we have a government that has the courage to implement the taxation and other reforms to bring about change; all we need is an opposition both here and in the Senate that is prepared to put the national interest ahead of petty, party-political point scoring.