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Thursday, 7 November 1985
Page: 1730

Senator ROBERTSON —My question is directed to the Minister representing the Prime Minister. The Minister no doubt has examined the latest unemployment figures. Do they indicate that the Government's policies in this area are on the right track?

Senator Chipp —I bet that comes as a surprise to you.

Senator BUTTON —It does come as a bit of a surprise to me. I thought that Senator Sir John Carrick, who takes such an interest in these matters, might have asked a question; instead it came from Senator Robertson. The October labour force statistics were released at 10.30 this morning. For the first time since September 1982-that is, in the last three years-the unemployment rate has dropped below 8 per cent. It is now 7.8 per cent, having broken through the 8 per cent barrier. It is a significant achievement and deserves to be welcomed by all Australians.

Briefly, unemployment dropped by 28,300 during the month of October. It is now 2.6 percentage points below the peak that it attained in September 1983-some six months after the end of the wage freeze which has been claimed by some Opposition spokesmen as a factor very relevant to the employment situation.

Although clearly there is a long way to go, the breaking of the 8 per cent barrier is a significant landmark in the recovery of the labour market. I should also add that there was more good news on youth unemployment. Unemployment dropped by 9,100 during October and is now at its lowest level for 3 1/2 years. The unemployment rate among teenagers is down to 20.8 per cent from 21.6 per cent in September. I remind honourable senators that two years previously it was about 28 per cent. That is not good enough, of course; it is not anything to be satisfied about, but it is again on the right track. There is clear evidence of a reversal in the long term decline in teenage job opportunities.

Senator Michael Baume —Of course, employment fell.

Senator BUTTON —As Senator Michael Baume reminds me by way of interjection, a disappointing aspect of the figures for this last month was the fall in employment of 26,600. That is not particularly surprising, given the very large increase of 56,000 in the month of September. If one looks at the figures over the past few months, one sees that pattern of fluctuation. That means the participation rate declined by 0.1 or 0.2 of a percentage point.

Senator Chaney —It was 0.5.

Senator BUTTON —A figure of 0.5.

Senator Chaney —That is a very large drop.

Senator BUTTON —No, it is not a large drop, if one considers the fluctuations over the past two or three years. Despite monthly variations in the figures, the employment growth trend remains strong, employment having increased by 76,000 this financial year, which means we are well on target in respect of the Budget projection of 180,000 new jobs in 1985-86. Furthermore, the Government remains on target for its goal of 500,000 new jobs in its first three years of office. I hope these figures will be welcome to all honourable senators as being indicative of a trend which the Government welcomes and which has been taking place for some time. With employment, as with other matters, I simply make the point that a lot of the issues related to this are fixed in past policies of previous governments. There has been talk in the Senate this morning about these matters, but if one looks at a number of structural issues in the Australian economy one finds that they date back over a long time and are of concern in respect of employment as well as the matters to which Senator Walsh has referred to in answers to questions today.