January 19, 2017

SUBJECTS: ABS Labour Force Figures.

BRENDAN O’CONNOR, SHADOW MINISTER FOR EMPLOYMENT AND WORKPLACE RELATIONS: Thanks for coming. I just want to respond to the ABS figures that are out today based on December’s results. What we see is there’s been an increase again in the unemployment rate in this country.

An increase in the unemployment rate, heading towards 6 per cent is not a remedy to the problems that beset this nation. Indeed it is an indicator that the Government is failing to deliver on a jobs plan for hundreds of thousands of Australians.

The ongoing challenge for this nation is to deal with ensuring that Australians get opportunities to find work. What we’re seeing is underemployment at the highest numbers in our history – almost 1.1 million. Over one million Australians looking for more work and cannot find it. In excess of 700,000 unemployed Australians. You combine those totals you’re looking at 1.8 million Australians looking for more work or some work and not being able to find it.

Now, that’s as a result in part of the Government’s failure to articulate a plan. We’ve seen the economy contract late last year. You’re seeing the full time work numbers in decline over the last year - in excess of 30,000 full time jobs fewer than was the case a year ago. Youth unemployment is in excess of 13 per cent. We have nearly 270,000 young Australians unable to find work.

And at the same time we have a Government that’s internally divided, beset with scandal and dysfunction, whether it be the problems it has with changing portfolios - four changes now in 18 months – or whether it’s in fact so harshly dealing with people, alleging fraud against honest Australians who have not committed any offences.

We are seeing dysfunction, division and failure by the Turnbull Government to focus on the biggest challenge it has and the biggest obligation it has and that is to provide opportunities for Australians to find work. So what we need to see is a clear articulation by the Prime Minister and by this Government to ensure Australians get opportunities to work. We’re not seeing that to date, and they need to do a lot better.

I’m happy to take questions.

JOURNALIST: It appears job growth here in Victoria was actually pretty steady and wasn’t negative. What do you attribute that to?

O’CONNOR: If you look around the country there are different trends – for example you see in Western Australia the second highest unemployment rate in this country. You think about that, the Western Australian economy has been one of the strongest economies in this nation for a decade and it now has the second highest unemployment rate at 6.6 per cent. I think that’s an indictment on the failure of the State Government and indeed the Commonwealth, and I’m sure West Australian people will make a decision as to what they think of the State Government in due course at the forthcoming election.

In relation to Victoria there’s been some efforts here, of course, by the State Government. But we know that the impact of killing off the car industry, that the Abbott-Turnbull Government so harshly did, will have ongoing impacts on this economy in Victoria and indeed in South Australia. We are starting to see that now of course, and we’re going to see further losses in the automotive parts sector of manufacturing once the car makers leave our shores.

Whenever you see some improvements in the job rates in any parts of Australia you welcome that. There are some real challenges though, particularly for those states which have relied upon manufacturing and car making in particular.

JOURNALIST: How about the total number of people with jobs was up though beyond market forecast, so doesn’t that show that things are looking up?

O’CONNOR: Look there was a slight increase in the numbers which is always welcome. Any job that adds to the labour market is one that Labor will always welcome, any increase what so ever. But even if you look at the numbers they don’t accord with the natural growth of our economy and our country. In other words, our unemployment rate is up because there were not sufficient jobs growth in the month of December and that’s why so much more has to be done.

But the real ongoing story of these figures if you look over the course of the last 12 months is underemployment is very very high. Over 1 million Australians looking for more work and cannot find it and of course over 700,000 unemployed Australians. That’s 1.8 million Australians looking for more work or looking for any work and not being able to find it. That means we’re not firstly, providing opportunities for many Australians and secondly, our economy is not growing sufficiently because too few are participating in the labour market even though they are desperate to do so.

The Government has to stop looking inward, divided, dysfunctional and focus on those things that matter to everyday Australians. And in particular, that means delivering a jobs plan for this nation. Thanks very much.