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Tuesday, 8 March 2005
Page: 25

Senator BARNETT (2:15 PM) —My question is to the Special Minister of State, Senator Eric Abetz, representing the Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations. Will the minister inform the Senate of the current rate of employment growth in Australia? What action is the government taking to ensure that this employment growth continues? Is the minister aware of any alternative policies?

Senator ABETZ (Special Minister of State) —I thank Senator Barnett for his ongoing interest in job creation in this country—job creation being the most important welfare policy that any government can deliver to its people. More Australians are now in work than ever before in our history and the unemployment rate has been below six per cent since August 2003. In addition, real wages for full-time workers are now a massive 18 per cent higher than when we took office in 1996. I note today—on International Women’s Day—that, contrary to claims by the ACTU and the Labor Party, the gap between men’s and women’s wages is in fact closing under the Howard government.

Senator Jacinta Collins —Under which measure? Be specific.

Senator ABETZ —We hear from one of the ‘quota girls’ opposite, ‘Under which measure?’ I can tell her which measure. Since 1996—

Senator Robert Ray interjecting—

Senator ABETZ —Senator Ray interjects—the man who knocked off Senator Jean Melzer in a preselection. Do not talk about employment opportunities for women, Senator Ray.

The PRESIDENT —Order! Minister, ignore the interjections and address your remarks through the chair.

Senator ABETZ —I will, Mr President. They are very provocative on the other side, but I will try to ignore them. Since 1996, women’s average full-time weekly earnings—

Opposition senators interjecting—

The PRESIDENT —Order! Senator Ray and others on my left will come to order.

Senator ABETZ —The important measure that Senator Collins wants to know about is that, since 1996, women’s average full-time weekly earnings have risen by 46.1 per cent compared to us fellas who have had only a 41.5 per cent rise. So there has been a substantial catch-up, as Senator Kay Patterson was indicating in answer to an earlier question. Over the term of the Howard government, average annual jobs growth has been around the 174,000 mark per annum; under Labor it was down to 101,000. For the past year, employment growth in Australia was an impressive 2.7 per cent or, to put it another way, there are 17,000 new jobs being created in Australia each and every month. At this rate, according to the ANZ, the unemployment rate may fall below five per cent by June this year. That is an economic and social indicator that I would have thought even the Labor Party might seek to applaud.

Having said that, we as a government are not resting on our laurels. We accept that more needs to be done. Whilst we might achieve that five per cent level, we should be seeking to drive that statistic down even further. That is why we as a government are pursuing a raft of industrial relations changes to ensure that there are greater employment opportunities in this country, such as getting rid of the unfair ‘unfair dismissal’ laws. If they were abolished, many commentators believe that we could create between 50,000 to 75,000 new jobs overnight. But, because the Australian Labor Party is so beholden to their trade union masters, they will not allow that legislation through this place—as a result, consigning about 50,000 to 75,000 of their fellow Australians to the unemployment scrap heap. We want to change the laws to stop unions from being able to barge into small business workplaces—something that those opposite in fact support and favour, as was witnessed by the votes of Senator Kerry O’Brien and other Labor senators on these important issues. Employment growth in this country has been a hallmark of the success of the economic management of the Howard-Costello team. We want to drive it even further and we look forward to Labor’s support. (Time expired)