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Thursday, 7 June 1984
Page: 2752

Senator MAGUIRE —My question is directed to the Minister representing the Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations. Is the Government encouraged by the May labour force figures released today showing a national unemployment rate of 8.9 per cent? When was the last time seasonally adjusted unemployment figures in Australia were below 9 per cent?

Senator BUTTON —Of course, the Government is pleased and I am sure all honourable senators will be pleased to note that there has been a drop in the unemployment rate to below 9 per cent. For the first time since November 1982 the figure has fallen to below 9 per cent. The unemployment rate is now down to 8.9 per cent seasonally adjusted. That is the largest recorded fall since the introduction of the monthly figures in February 1978. That represents, in terms of people, a decline of 95,000 in the unemployment figures and of 1.5 per cent in the unemployment rate since the peak in September.

The figures reveal that employment is up. There has been an increase of 217,000 jobs in the year to May 1984 and 233,400 jobs in the 13 months since April 1983. This is 47 per cent of the Government's target, expressed prior to the election, of creating 500,000 jobs over three years. I remind the Senate that the anticipation and hope of the Government were expressed in terms of caution about the prospects of dramatically and immediately reducing the unemployment figure.

I point out that the falls in the unemployment rate as indicated by the just released figures were recorded in all States other than Tasmania. For example, in South Australia the figure is now down from a figure of 9.5 per cent to 9.3 per cent. The only two States where the level is significantly above average are Queensland and Tasmania.

Senator Walsh —I wonder why.

Senator BUTTON —It is a source of regret to the Government that in those two States similar results have not been achieved, and Senator Walsh wonders why. In referring to Senator Maguire's question and giving the latest figures on unemployment, I make two cautionary notes again. We have always said that the task of the Government was to make a steady attack on the levels of unemployment which existed when we came to government. Caution needs to be exercised, of course, in respect of one month's figures. But these figures, following on the publication of the national accounts figures earlier this week, are encouraging ones and certainly suggest that the favourable figures released in the national accounts statements are having their effect in the employment area. We would like to draw the conclusion that the Government is on track with its macroeconomic policies. Of course, that is a matter of debate. But certainly, the figures are encouraging in suggesting that is so.

I would also like to make the point that, whilst the Government has to be concerned with aggregate unemployment figures and with aggregate employment creation, there are, in particular sectors of the economy, some very severe difficulties which will have to be dealt with as far as possible over time. They have been the subject of some noisy speculation in the last week or so. But they are matters of concern to the Government and will be addressed, as far as it is possible, by the Government taking action which is helpful in those areas.