Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
 Download Current HansardDownload Current Hansard    View Or Save XMLView/Save XML

Previous Fragment    Next Fragment
Thursday, 11 September 2003
Page: 19885

Mrs MAY (2:21 PM) —My question is addressed to the Prime Minister. Would the Prime Minister inform the House of the labour force outcomes for August which were released by the Australian Bureau of Statistics this morning?

Mr HOWARD (Prime Minister) —I thank the member for McPherson for this question. Today is a great day for the workers of Australia. Today we have seen the lowest unemployment rate for 13 years. Today the Bureau of Statistics told us that unemployment in Australia had fallen to 5.8 per cent, and this is despite a rise in the participation rate. As the Treasurer pointed out earlier, it is despite the fact that there has been a significant fall in exports due to the combined effect of the drought and the sluggishness in the world economy. But the thing that is really significant about this golden figure for the workers of Australia is that getting Australians into jobs is what good economic policy is all about.

We have this number because of the courage of the government's economic policies over the last 7½ years. We have it despite the attempts of the Australian Labor Party, year after year, to prevent us from implementing good economic policy. They stood in the way of industrial relations reform. They stood in the way of tax reform. They even, through the current Leader of the Opposition, said that tax reform would drive up unemployment in Australia. That is what they said. They warned that inflation would go up. They warned that economic growth would stagnate. They warned that unemployment would get worse. They taunted us about it.

The Leader of the Opposition's predecessor said that he was going to surf to victory not on the back of good policy but on the back of the public's discontent with the new tax system. But, as is typical of the character of the Australian nation, it took tax reform in its stride, despite the drought. And let me take the opportunity of saying, through the parliament, to the Australian people that, although there have been some good rains in recent weeks, we should not pretend that the drought is over. There are many country people all around our nation who are still very severely affected by the drought and, unless there are good follow-up rains, some of those harsh conditions could return. We must preserve a sense of perspective.

But I repeat that this is a wonderful number. The unemployment rate was last below six per cent in March 1990. Unemployment reached 10.9 per cent in December 1992 as a consequence of `the recession we had to have'. In getting ready for question time, I recalled the fact that the Leader of the Opposition was once the Minister for Employment, Education and Training. He was the Minister for Employment, Education and Training for no fewer than 26 months in the Keating government. I wonder what unemployment in Australia averaged over this period. Was it five per cent?

Government members—No!

Mr HOWARD —Was it six per cent?

Government members—No!

Mr HOWARD —Was it seven per cent?

Government members—No!

Mr HOWARD —No, it averaged 8.8 per cent, which is a full three percentage points above the present figure. This is the former president of the ACTU, and the unemployment rate was three percentage points above the present figure. In my quick research, I just happened to come across an answer to a question without notice on 10 February 1994 by the then employment minister, now Leader of the Opposition. He started off—and they are really wonderful words—by saying:

The labour force statistics that have been released today are very good news for job seekers.

He then went on to say:

The unemployment rate has fallen to 10.6 per cent ...

In a phrase, that says it all. To Labor, it is good news if unemployment is at 10.6 per cent. To us, any unemployment rate is too high. I do not pretend that there is not volatility and I do not pretend that the numbers will not bounce around in the months ahead, but I do remind those opposite that we have created 1.2 million new jobs since we came to office. We created 365,000 new jobs in our first term and 500,000 in our second term, and we have created 334,000 so far in the current term, with more to come.

The final thing I would say is that we can have even lower unemployment in this country if we get off the back of small business, if the Labor Party summons the courage to tell the trade union movement to get lost and allows the unfair dismissal laws to pass through the Senate. If we could get those laws passed through the Senate, we could, on private sector assessments, add 50,000 to 80,000 more jobs a year to the Australian work force, and that would drive our unemployment rate down even further. Good economic policy has its reward, and the greatest reward for this government is to have 1.2 million more Australians in work over the last 7½ years.