Peter Costello

Media Transcripts

June Labour Force figures, Budget, election

TRANSCRIPT
THE HON PETER COSTELLO MP
Treasurer

Doorstop Interview
Treasury Place, Melbourne

Thursday, 8 July 2004
12 noon

SUBJECTS: June Labour Force figures, Budget, election

TREASURER:

Well, today’s unemployment rate for the month of June was slightly higher than last month at 5.6 per cent, represents the tenth month in a row where unemployment has been below 6 per cent, the longest run below 6 per cent since monthly records commenced in 1978. And interestingly enough there appears to be a shift over recent times in the labour market from part-time to full-time employment, and in fact in today’s figures you saw an increase of some 43,000 jobs, full-time jobs, whilst there was a decrease of part-time jobs - let me give the correct figure - there was an increase of 39,000 full-time jobs whilst there was a decrease of 43,000 part-time jobs. So whilst there was an overall decline in jobs, there was an increase in full-time jobs. And in fact we have seen that happen over the course of the last year where there have been some 200,000 new jobs created in Australia, but they have all been full-time jobs. That is there appears to have been a big shift from part-time to full-time employment. That is evidence of strong growth in the labour market and what we see from forward indicators is that jobs growth should continue, this is consistent with consumer confidence, strong jobs growth, low interest rates, good consumer confidence, good prospects for the Australian economy.

JOURNALIST:

Are you disappointed though that the overall figure is negative?

TREASURER:

Well, what the figures today show is that there was growth of 39,000 full-time jobs and a loss of 43,000 part-time jobs, so, what we are seeing, I think, is a move out of part-time into full-time job creation and I actually think that is a good thing.

JOURNALIST:

There is still more people unemployed though.

TREASURER:

The unemployment rate is 5.6 per cent which is slightly higher than the 5.5 per cent in May, but these figures bounce around incredibly as I have said over and over again, the fact that we now have been below 6 per cent for 10 months in a row, which is equal to the only time that has occurred since 1978, since monthly records came in, I think is testament to the strength of the Australian labour market.

JOURNALIST:

Do you think it will get to 5 per cent?

TREASURER:

I don’t think we will get down to 5 per cent until such time as we are able to implement structural reforms, I think if we could get unfair dismissal law improvements through the Senate, if Labor would stop blocking the further measures we have to improve Australia’s labour market, yes, I think unemployment could get down to 5 per cent. But whilst you have the Labor Party blocking reform in the Senate, it is going to be very difficult to make that.

JOURNALIST:

So is this as fas as we can go without those structural changes?

TREASURER:

Nobody thought we would get below 6 per cent without structural changes, the fact that we have now been below 6 per cent for more than, for 10 months in a row, indicates that perhaps our targets weren’t ambitious enough, and I think we should continue to try and get unemployment lower in Australia. I will just make the point, it would be easier if we could get structural reforms, if the Labor Party would cease its blocking strategy in the Australian Senate, unemployment could go lower in this country.

JOURNALIST:

Earlier this week you did say that there was a softening, signs of softening in the Australian economy, surely this is a pointer to that?

TREASURER:

Oh no, I indicated earlier that I thought that consumption would soften over the course of the year and I, our forecasts are that it will, but a 5.6 per cent unemployment rate is something that we wouldn’t have imagined possible in Australia two years ago. I don’t think anybody would say a 5.6 per cent unemployment rate was a softening, in fact it was seriously being said three or four years ago that unemployment in Australia couldn’t go below the sixes and the sevens, the fact that we are at 5.6 per cent, the fact that we have been there for 10 months in a row, the fact that that is the longest run below 6 per cent since we started keeping monthly records in 1978 indicates how much progress we have made. Having said that, we don’t want to rest on our laurels, if we could take unemployment lower in this country, we should try and do so.

JOURNALIST:

So this blip up today is consistent with your targets?

TREASURER:

It is very much in line with the Budget forecasts, but you will see unemployment rates bounce around from time to time. The important thing is the trend and a trend of ten months below six per cent is very significant for Australia, as I said, we started taking monthly unemployment data in 1978, there has only been one other occasion, back in the very early 80’s, nearly 25 years ago, where we have had unemployment below 6 per cent for ten months in a row, and if unemployment is still below 6 per cent next month, it would be the longest period of sustained unemployment below 6 per cent ever recorded in Australia since we began the monthly figures in 1978, 26 years ago.

JOURNALIST:

So to borrow a phrase that the trend is our friend?

TREASURER:

Well, the trend is one I think that Australians will welcome, which is healthy job opportunities.

JOURNALIST:

But Mr Costello, are you disappointed that the workplace participation rate remained unchanged?

TREASURER:

Well, I think the workforce participation rate may well rise in years to come and we would welcome that, we are actually trying to encourage more people to go into the labour market, many of our budget measures were designed to assist particularly mothers to get back into the workforce, many of our retirement measures are designed to encourage older workers to stay in the workforce, you know, people who are not yet of retirement age at 65 and I think we would like to see the participation rate rise over the years to come. But that is a structural thing, that is going to take some time.

JOURNALIST:

How do you respond to Access Economics criticisms that the Budget leaves the cupboard so bare that you are going to have to put up taxes or reduce spending in four years?

TREASURER:

Well, what the name of the chap that said that?

JOURNALIST:

Rumbens, Access Economics.

TREASURER:

Rumbens, I have not heard of Mr Rumbens.

JOURNALIST:

So you don’t place any credence in his criticism that the cupboard is bare?

TREASURER:

Well, I don’t think Mr Rumbens is an astute observer of the Australian economic scene and I don’t think he is a well-known commentator and I thought it was probably a piece of writing which was designed to get publicity for Access Economics actually.

JOURNALIST:

The Prime Minister is unveiling his fourth term agenda today. Do you think that that means, do you think he will be here for the full fourth term?

TREASURER:

Well, we are running for an election and it is a question of whether or not the Australian public re-elects the Government…

JOURNALIST:

And…

TREASURER:

…whether we will be there.

JOURNALIST:

…if they do, do you believe that the Prime Minister will be there for the full fourth term?

TREASURER:

Well, let’s see, our faith lies in the hands of the Australian public at the next election, we don’t take anything for granted.

JOURNALIST:

If you do get re-elected and the Prime Minister isn’t there for the full fourth term, do you commit to the same agenda that he unveils today?

TREASURER:

Let’s go to the election. Thank you.

9 Jul 2004

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