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Thursday, 8 March 1984
Page: 616

Senator GEORGES —Would the Minister for Industry and Commerce draw upon his photographic memory to give me the latest labour force figures, which I believe were released today? I ask whether these figures are consistent with the Government's economic strategy and commitment to growth in employment?

Senator BUTTON —I thank Senator Georges for the kind way in which he phrased his question. I do not, in fact, have a photographic memory but I do have a bit of paper here with the figures written on it to which I will refer. I am, of course , aware of the latest figures. They confirm the Government's view that the labour market is continuing to recover. Seasonally adjusted employment increased by 21,000, the eighth increase in 10 months, which more than offsets the decline in January and reinforces the view that the January figures were nothing more than the traditional blip. Since April 1983 more than 140,000 new jobs have been created. On average, over the three months to February employment has grown by 60,700, while unemployment has fallen by 38,400. New jobs in the financial year to date number 116,200, with four months to go. That figure is already ahead of the Budget estimate of around 90,000 additional jobs during 1983-84. Unemployment is currently at 9.4 per cent, down from 9.5 per cent in January of this year.

Of course, in giving those figures I express some caution as to whether the recent rapid employment growth can be sustained. The Government has been encouraged by the figures in the last few months, but we again make the point that economic growth will have to be sustained. One might expect, in relation to the consideration of employment figures, that participation rates will increase as the recovery proceeds. Recent trends in employment have exceeded the most optimistic expectations of the Government. Taken with other indicators, the evidence is that the Government's economic policies are working. Nonetheless, I reiterate that we must approach these figures not only with optimism but also with caution. It is the Government's belief that the recovery can be sustained and that will have a steady effect on reducing unemployment and increasing the number of new jobs available in the community. We look forward to that happening . Of course, the elements of the Government's economic policy have to be kept in place if that is to happen and that, of course, concerns many areas of the economy outside the area of government administration. We are very pleased with the figures and we look forward to a greater improvement in later months this year.