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Thursday, 12 May 1994
Page: 753

Senator FOREMAN —I direct my question to the Minister representing the Minister for Employment, Education and Training. Can the minister inform the Senate of the labour force figures released today by the Australian Bureau of Statistics? What are the prospects for further improvement in the effort to reduce unemployment?

Senator SCHACHT —At the outset, let me say that the prospects are very good for further improvement in the labour market in Australia, particularly in view of the successful announcement last week of the white paper package for employment and the successful outcome of the budget announced this week. The figures today show that unemployment is at its lowest level for two and a half years. Unemployment fell from 10.3 per cent in March to 10.1 per cent for April. Unemployment fell below 900,000 for the first time since April 1992. Unemployment in April was 875,100, which was down 89,300 for the past six months. Over the past year, employment increased by 236,400 and growth continued in April, with 6,000 new jobs.

  We are already, in a year, half way to our promise at the last election to create half a million jobs. Every time we remind those opposite, their faces get sadder and sadder. The only time they smile on employment figures is when unemployment goes up. When employment is improving substantially, glumness overtakes the opposition.

  In these figures there were increases in full time and male employment, which is very encouraging. Although the participation rate fell slightly by 0.2 per cent to 62.6 per cent, it remains well above the level at the same time last year, which was 61.9. Unemployment dropped in all states in Australia, with South Australia and Victoria showing significant improvement.

  Today's news, as I said before, follows the successful announcement of the employment package of last week and the budget of this week, all aimed to continue the improvement in employment and to get down to an unemployment level of five per cent by the end of this decade—a figure that has been derided by those opposite because they know that their political fortunes can rise only if unemployment rises.

  This is an opposition bereft of policy and, as Senator Crowley pointed out before, they have the ludicrous situation of the Leader of the Opposition telling his party room that they will make our white paper the same as their Fightback paper. What an admission of political defeat that they have to say that they are going to treat the white paper the same as their own political document of last year—the Fightback paper. It proves without doubt that this opposition is the worst in the 50 years since the UAP broke up into six factions in 1943.