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November 19, 2020

BRENDAN O’CONNOR, SHADOW MINISTER FOR EMPLOYMENT: Thank you very much for coming. I would just like to start by responding to the ABS figures out today and note that the unemployment rate has gone up to 7 per cent. We have an unemployment rate with a 7 in front of it. And that means there's a lot of work to do for this country to respond to the recession that we find ourselves in. And that's why we asked the government to continue to explore ways to improve opportunities for employment, for employment growth, for businesses to recover in the face of a pandemic, which has been unprecedented in modern times.

The unemployment rate has risen, although Labor does welcome the new jobs, full time and part time jobs, as a result of the economy in parts of the country recovering as we see restrictions ease away. And let's hope that Victoria, and in particular Melbourne, with the easing of restrictions as a result of the very successful efforts to suppress a second wave will lead to further opportunities in employment, as this economy in this state, in this city recovers.

It's important to note however, whilst there's been some improvements, unemployment still rose by 30,000 job seekers, people looking for work, looking for work but not being able to find it. And whilst there's been a decline in the underutilisation rate, that is the unemployment rate and the underemployment rate, at 17.4 per cent, that is a very significant proportion of the labour market that can't find any work or can't find enough work. And for that reason, so much more has to be done.

Labor is still concerned, we have to say, that there is persistent stagnant wage growth, the lowest wage growth on record yesterday. And we are concerned that there's still problems with people returning to secure work. In fact, it seems to be the case that the pandemic, and perhaps the government's policies, is leading to more precarious work, and more part time work compared with full time work.

For example, there's been 100,000 or more full time jobs lost in the last 12 months. But there's been a net additional increase of part time work. And it's true to say that the new policy that the Morrison government has introduced is very modest in terms of the JobMaker hiring credit scheme. It's very modest. It won't do what it needs to do sufficiently. It will hopefully increase employment, but only, as Treasury concedes, about 45,000 jobs. But it does encourage employers to employ people on a part time basis.

In fact, you are financially better off employing people in part time jobs than you would be in a full time job. So that policy compounds the problem that many Australians are facing when they look for full time work. And for many Australians, whilst part time work can be a preference and can be ideal, for many, many others it is not an ideal situation. They have a full time mortgage they need a full time job. They have a full time family to look after and they can't look after them with part time work.

Therefore, the government should not be initiating policies that compound the problem where we have well over a million Australians looking for more work but can't find it. So there's much to do here.

We note that the unemployment rate has risen but we do see that the participation rate has improved and we see that there's been jobs that have been added to the labour market last month. And that's a good sign.

I should note I think South Australia is a cautionary tale. It looks like South Australia certainly move very quickly. And to the credit of the South Australian government they've responded quite rapidly to the breakout in that state. But it's just as a reminder to us all that if we falter, if there's any outbreak of the pandemic, then we will see not only some potential dangers to public health, but we'll see potential adverse impacts on the economy.

As we see now in South Australia they've closed down many, many businesses. Now it is of course at this point only for six days and let's hope it's only for six days, but it really is a good reminder to us all that this pandemic is not over. It continues to exist. And we have to be ever vigilant.

I’d like to pay tribute to the South Australian community for responding so rapidly. And I hope I can visit there soon coming into Christmas as I have relatives and friends there. And I think we do in Melbourne understand a little about what they're confronting now, but let's hope they can get on top of it much quicker and ensure that they have a very good Christmas and a good summer.

I'm happy to take any questions if there are any? Thanks very much.