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Friday, 22 March 1985
Page: 673

Senator HEARN —Has the Minister representing the Prime Minister seen the February labour force statistics? Can he say how these figures fit in with other indicators of the recovery in the economy?

Senator BUTTON —The question related to labour force statistics and I assume that it was directed particularly at the matter of unemployment, which used to be a matter of great concern to the Opposition and which, of course, has always been a matter of great concern to this Government. The February labour force figures reveal again a very encouraging improvement in both employment and unemployment trends. Total employment in February was up by 0.7 per cent on January 1985-that is the monthly improvement-and 3.3 per cent on the same month in 1984; that is to say, in February 1985 a 3.3 per cent increase in employment was recorded relative to February 1984.

The unemployment rate fell from 8.5 per cent in January of this year to 8.3 per cent in February of this year. These employment figures are accompanied by an increase in participation rates in the work force. I do not have the precise figures before me at the moment but they are available. The figures reveal a continuing problem in the area of youth unemployment, a matter to which the Government is currently giving urgent attention. Nonetheless, in spite of the fact that there is a continuing and dramatic problem of youth unemployment in Australia, I make the point that since the beginning of 1984 the youth unemployment rate has fallen from approximately 25.5 per cent to of the order of 23.3 per cent, which is about a 2 per cent fall. It is an improvement but, of course, it has not made a desirable impact on the total overall figures. Having given those figures, and having commented particularly on the youth unemployment figures, I make the point that since April 1983 total employment has grown by over 360,000, well on the track of the Government's promises prior to the 1983 election.

I was also asked about other indicators in respect of the economy. Currently the inflation rate is just over 5 per cent in line with the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development average and less than half the rate we inherited when we took office from the discredited Fraser Government. Retail sales are up and the latest investment figures show a considerable improvement, albeit over a low base, on 1983 and 1984. Housing also remains strong, and recent surveys of business and consumer confidence have proved very optimistic. Mr President, I am sorry to have delayed the Senate with a somewhat lengthy answer but I think it is important that those figures be recorded because they are encouraging and, I hope, will be encouraging to all honourable senators irrespective of their parties.