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Tuesday, 15 June 2010
Page: 3223

Senator CAROL BROWN (2:21 PM) —My question is to the Minister for Employment Participation, Senator Arbib. Can the minister advise the Senate of the latest unemployment data released by the Australian Bureau of Statistics last week? What do the statistics show for full-time employment? How has the government stimulus spending helped to keep jobs growth in the economy? What does this mean for small business? Can the minister also advise how the government’s new employment services are helping job seekers?

Senator ARBIB (Minister for Employment Participation and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for Government Service Delivery) —I thank the honourable senator for her question. Last week’s ABS data was good news for job seekers, with unemployment falling to 5.2 per cent. It is also good news because what we have seen for the first time is real growth in full-time employment and also real growth in hours worked. Last month alone, the economy created over 36,000 full-time positions. That is 280,000 jobs created over the past 12 months. Full-time employment has now risen for nine consecutive months and has increased by 165,000 over the past year to 2010, and part-time employment is up by 113,000. This is good news for families, because this will ensure that families can put food on their tables and can pay their mortgages—exactly what the government’s commitment was and exactly why we acted with the stimulus package to support workers.

When you compare what is happening in our economy and our labour market to what is going on overseas, it is a remarkable tale. Unemployment in Ireland is almost 13 per cent now. Unemployment in the United States is back up to 9.9 per cent. In the EU it is 9.7 per cent. In Spain it is 19.7 per cent. Mr Abbott said we should emulate New Zealand. Emulate New Zealand’s economy? Unemployment in New Zealand right now is 7.1 per cent.

And this difference has been through the work of the stimulus package. Don’t just ask us; ask Master Builders Australia. Ask Wilhelm Harnisch. Talk about the tradespeople, the carpenters, the plumbers, the electricians and the apprentices all working thanks to the stimulus package. That is what is driving unemployment down. (Time expired)

Honourable senators interjecting—

The PRESIDENT —Order! When we have silence, we will proceed.

Senator CAROL BROWN —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. I thank the minister for that answer—very good news indeed. Can the minister inform the Senate of the situation for young people? What is the youth unemployment rate? How does that compare to other countries? What efforts is the government making to tackle youth unemployment and particularly to give young people an opportunity in the traditional trades?

Senator Fierravanti-Wells interjecting—

Senator ARBIB (Minister for Employment Participation and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for Government Service Delivery) —Yes, unemployment is certainly a problem globally—there is no doubt about that—and unemployment in some key regions, as Senator Fierravanti-Wells said, is still an issue. In terms of the Illawarra it is certainly still an issue. Up in Cairns it is still an issue. But I can report that unemployment for young people—15- to 24-year-olds—has actually decreased by 0.9 per cent over the past year and now stands at 11.2 per cent.

But we believe youth unemployment is still a problem, and that is why the government is acting. That is exactly what Apprenticeship Kickstart is about. We are committed and we promise to work towards supporting 21,000 apprenticeships over the summer period—teenage apprenticeships. The Rudd government delivered 24,400 apprentices through Apprenticeship Kickstart and through the stimulus package, and we have done it again. We are working again through the budget in another commitment, $80 million to create 22,000 more apprentices. (Time expired)

Senator CAROL BROWN —Mr President, I ask a further supplementary question. Despite the very strong jobs growth and good results to date in Australia, can the minister outline any potential threats to employment? How would the opposition’s plans to cut services and important training affect the job seekers of the future?

Senator ARBIB (Minister for Employment Participation and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for Government Service Delivery) —The biggest threat to employment in this country is the coalition. Recently Mr Robb was left holding the bag of coalition commitments and also funding cuts. It will not be a surprise that they have gone right after the skills and capacity of this country, getting rid of trades training centres, getting rid of the successful productivity places, getting rid of computers in schools and getting rid of broadband. These are the coalition’s policies, but most important is going back to Work Choices.

Honourable senators interjecting—

The PRESIDENT —Senator Arbib, if you would just resume your seat, when we have silence we will proceed.

Senator Williams interjecting—

The PRESIDENT —Order! No, I am waiting for silence, Senator Williams, so that we can proceed before we get to your question—on both sides.

Senator ARBIB (Minister for Employment Participation and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for Government Service Delivery) —They are going back to the worst of Work Choices: individual contracts and getting rid of unfair dismissal laws. Recently Senator Abetz, the leader of the coalition in this place, made a statement that he stands by everything he has ever said in terms of Work Choices, and again on Meet the Press he talked about the document that he says he did not write. Well, I have that, and here it is, written by Eric Abetz. (Time expired)

Honourable senators interjecting—

The PRESIDENT —Resume your seat. That is disorderly. Order! I am waiting to call Senator Williams.