October 16, 2015

BRENDAN O’CONNOR, SHADOW MINISTER FOR EMPLOYMENT AND WORKPLACE RELATIONS: Thanks very much for coming. Today of course the unemployment rate for September was released by the Australian Bureau of Statistics. It’s clear that the unemployment rate in this country is persistently high at 6.2 per cent.

I think what is most concerning about these figures is that there’s been a loss of 14,000 jobs. Just under 14 000 jobs. And if it wasn’t for the fact that the participation rate has fallen from 65.1 to 64.9, the unemployment rate would’ve gone up. So we have an unemployment rate that’s been at six per cent or more for 16 consecutive months. We have full time jobs disappearing from the labour market. We have the participation rate falling, which is the only reason why the unemployment rate didn’t rise.

We have of course 86,000 additional unemployed people since the election. 86 000 additional Australians lining in unemployment queues in this country since the Abbott/Turnbull Government was elected. 112 000 jobs short of their modest promise before the election in terms of creating jobs.

The Government must respond to the challenge of unemployment, it must deal with this issue. It’s also important to note that underemployment is at 8.5 per cent. Again, a very significant high figure. These figures are most concerning to the Opposition and they should be of great concern to the Government who has not really been responding to this challenge at all. If you take for example, South Australia. The South Australian unemployment rate is just .1 per cent short of eight per cent. Now we know one of the reasons why the South Australian unemployment is rising is because this government has neglected its engagement with industry - it’s failed. It’s of course killed off the car industry. It’s killed business and consumer confidence. People are not hiring. And when they do hire, they put people or offer people part time jobs. So more people are saying they can’t get the work that they need. 86,000 unemployed since the election. And well in excess of 100,000 jobs short of the promise they made before the election to create jobs. And that promise by the way, was a modest promise, really dealing with the natural growth of our population.

Happy to take some questions.

JOURNALIST: Are you concerned that at a time when we’ve got high unemployment, that Westpac is putting up its mortgage rates?

O’CONNOR: Well I thought that was a very unusual decision by the bank in the circumstances to break from the other banks. I think it’s going to really hit the people that are having trouble maintaining payments to mortgages. Dealing with an increase in interest payments on a mortgage is very difficult for people struggling. If you think about – if you’re underemployed for example, and you’ve got a mortgage and that goes up, and increases say that mortgage by $40 a month, and you’re struggling to find work to pay for it, I’m sure that would be most concerning for those households who are struggling.

I thought it was very disappointing to see Westpac make that decision. It will have an impact on the living standards of people and that is of concern to us.

JOURNALIST: What do you make of the comments in today’s Financial Review? The former boss of the ABS seeming to suggest that unemployment figures that have been released in recent months have been bungled?

O’CONNOR: I'd like to see the reasoning behind the complaints he's made about the methodology. The ABS is a reputable agency. They have changed the methodology in times and in the end I think quite often governments and others rely upon their good work. If people have genuine complaints to make about the calculations, the forecasting or extrapolation of data to conclude on a particular statistic, we'd like to see that.

It's very important - the ABS has an important role in our economy, in dealing with decision making of government and in the corporate sector and so it's very important that there is confidence in the ABS. So those matters should be examined. But at this point, I have to say, I will err on the side of relying upon the ABS which does a good job, but be open to hearing arguments about why there's any issues with that particular matter.

JOURNALIST: A report tabled in Parliament today suggests there's been about 1,000 breaches of Federal workplace laws and in many cases the finger of blame is pointed at the CFMEU. Do you accept there's a problem?

O’CONNOR: I haven't seen the report. I, of course, read the report of the report on the front page of a daily newspaper today. That was misleading in itself, because it talked about crime when it's to deal with civil breaches, if there are any breaches. And it didn't identify breaches, it actually outlined that there were investigations into breaches. The number of breaches wasn't real, at least until we see the report and the criminal dimension to the reporting was wrong, because obviously it's civil jurisdiction.

But, having said that, I asked the Minister, by the way who's managed to provide the document, it would appear, to the media, if she wanted to provide it to me as the Shadow Minister for Employment, but we're yet to receive that report.

It does show a contempt of Parliament to be providing this document to the media to get a spin out of it before parliamentarians get to look at it. But let me just be very clear here, we will examine that report in detail and respond to it once we've done that. And if we've got a concern about certain matters, if we think there needs to be a policy response, you can be assured we'll be saying so.

We shouldn't be misleading people by suggesting it's to do with criminal matters and we shouldn't be misleading when we say these are breaches when, in fact, it's only totalling the investigations.

We should be very careful here, but you'll hear more from the Opposition once we've read the report, once we’re given the report. If I’d been a journalist at the Australian I’d probably be reading it now.

Thanks very much.