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New jobs in November 1995 totalled 112,000, making 733,000 jobs created since March 1993

MONICA ATTARD: Paul Keating's Government must have the luck of the Irish. Within weeks of Australia's current account deficit turning around and turning down, employment, which had looked like being the Government's Achilles heel, has turned back up.

Officially, we learnt today that an extra 112,000 Australians found jobs in the month of November, more than in any single month since records began. It's a result which more than negates the loss of 50,000 jobs in the two months previous and also seems to negate the Opposition's claim that growth is slowing.

Our economics correspondent, Peter Martin, reports.

PETER MARTIN: One election ago, and what seems like a political world away, in February 1993, the Government of Prime Minister, Paul Keating, and the trade union movement adopted an audacious target - an extra half a million new jobs in just three years. The man who is now the leader of the Australian Opposition told PM it couldn't be done.

EXTRACT:

ELLEN FANNING: What about that target of half a million? Paul Keating says that's an achievable minimum. Do you agree with that?

JOHN HOWARD: Not under his policies - no, I don't.

ELLEN FANNING: But just generally - half a million - is that possible in three years?

JOHN HOWARD: No, look, if you have a change of government....

ELLEN FANNING: But Access Economics says regardless of who wins government there will be economic growth.

JOHN HOWARD: I am John Howard, I am not Access Economics, and Access Economics is not the Bible of economic debate in this country. There are a whole range of view about employment prospects and I am just making the point that I believe that under our policies unemployment will fall quicker and fall further than under the policies of the present government. And we do have a plan....

ELLEN FANNING: So more than half a million new jobs?

JOHN HOWARD: Ellen, I am not going to put my name to a particular figure, within a particular time, beyond the broad target of two million by the end of the decade, which is contained in Fightback and I am not going to do that because it's too hard to do that.

PETER MARTIN: Paul Keating had no such qualms about putting his name to a particular target and is now set to reap the political reward.

Some quick work on the pocket calculator this afternoon reveals that today, with three years not even up, an extra 733,000 jobs have been created under the life of the Keating Government, the last 112,000 of them in one month, and this at a time when the Opposition and many others believed the economy was turning down.

Whatever the Treasury told the Treasurer, whatever the Employment Department told the Employment Minister about a slow down in the December quarter, they are now busy revving their forecasts back up. One hundred and twelve thousand extra Australians in work means 112,000 extra Australians spending in the quarter and 112,000 extra Australians producing.

Even if recorded employment falls in December, even if it falls for months after that, talk of a downturn in employment right now is clearly a long way off the mark, as too is any cut in interest rates. In fact, on the last two occasions employment jumped by more than 75,000 in a month, the Reserve Bank actually pushed rates up. In fact, so good is today's news for economic growth, for confidence and for employment in the lead-up to the election, that the lucky Minister responsible, Simon Crean, this afternoon felt able to play it down.

SIMON CREAN: If you look at the last couple of months in particular that seemed to show something like 50,000 jobs coming out of the system, this has now put 112,000 back in and it's why I continue to impress upon people you can't place too much store in just one month's figures, but we're not. We're not crowing about the 112,000, we're simply saying that they confirm the very strong job growth that this Government has consistently created over the past two-and-a-half years.

PETER MARTIN: The one frustration for Simon Crean in today's result, the recorded rate of unemployment didn't fall very much at all. It fell to 8.6 per cent from 8.7 and that's still actually higher than it was a few months ago. The reason is that most of the new jobs in this recovery appear to be going to people not previously regarded as unemployed. It makes the Government's next big target, an unemployment rate of 5 per cent by the turn of the century, look as far away as ever.

MONICA ATTARD: Well, today's employment news is bad political news for the Opposition. Fielding questions on the Coalition's behalf today is its employment spokesperson, David Kemp. He spoke to Peter Martin just before we came to air.

PETER MARTIN: Is today's news to be welcomed?

DAVID KEMP: Well, any sign of employment growth is to be welcomed because there's been far too little of it. Unfortunately, today we have also seen youth unemployment rise to a new high of 30.4 which is the highest level for 18 months and a higher level than existed when Working Nation began. Australia has got a very long way to go in terms of generating the jobs that people are looking for and the Government's record is not a good one in that regard.

PETER MARTIN: Is the Government on track to cut unemployment to 5 per cent as it has promised, by the end of the decade?

DAVID KEMP: Well, I don't think there is any prospect at all of getting to that 5 per cent target.

PETER MARTIN: No prospect?

DAVID KEMP: Of course, not under current policies.

PETER MARTIN: Can I put it to you that this is the kind of thing that your party said about half a million new jobs in three years.

DAVID KEMP: Well, just look at the picture, Peter. We've had job growth since the last election. We have to net off against that job growth - the 337,000 jobs that were lost during the recession - the remaining net jobs have lifted unemployment from 6.2 in 1990 to 8.6 today. The Government is now slowing the economy. It's been made quite clear to it that it simply can't sustain the huge deficits that have been coming through in recent years. And as the economy slows, inevitably employment growth slows. The growth rate has now dropped back as a result of deliberate Government decisions, closer to 3 per cent. And as everyone knows that is not a rate which is going to produce anything like a 5 per cent unemployment rate by the year 2000.

PETER MARTIN: Your party raised the possibility this week of negative growth in the December quarter. Will you now be backing away from that?

DAVID KEMP: Well, John Howard there was referring to views that were being put by some officials. It's quite clear the economy is slowing. All the job indicators, the job vacancies index, has been falling now for something like 11 months. It is the Government's intention to cut back economic growth and to cut back employment and I think we have got to be very careful about placing too much weight on one month's employment figures. In the previous two months 50,000 jobs were lost; we've now seen an upsurge. I think everybody regards the statistics with some degree of scepticism and let's see what actually comes through. But I can assure you of this, I believe Paul Keating will be seeking to rush to an election before the truth is clearly revealed to people.

PETER MARTIN: Do you now expect that truth to show positive economic growth - yet another record?

DAVID KEMP: Well, let's just see what the growth is when it comes through. But what we do know, and let's just look at what's actually happened, growth has slowed to round about 3 per cent. And 3 per cent is not a growth rate which is going to produce the jobs that Australians are looking for. And that's why we have an unemployment rate today, even after the job growth of the last month, of 8.6 per cent, which is higher .. considerably higher than it was even three months ago.

PETER MARTIN: David Kemp, thank you very much.

MONICA ATTARD: Dr David Kemp, the Coalition's employment spokesperson, speaking there to our economics correspondent, Peter Martin.