Doorstop interview – ABS employment figures released today
- Leader of the Government in the Senate
- Minister for Employment
- Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for the Public Service
- Senator for Tasmania
***Check against delivery***
15 January 2015
MINISTER ABETZ: The employment figures are very encouraging. What we have is an increase in the participation rate whilst also experiencing a decrease in the unemployment rate. When you have greater confidence of employers employing and workers and potential workers engaging in the jobs market, that is an indication that the jobs market is strengthening and the growth in December is on top of the growth that we experienced in November.
So at the end of 2014 the employment figures indicate that we enjoyed an average growth rate in jobs of about 17,800 per month, in comparison to the last year of Labor, 2013, where they only averaged an employment increase of about 5000 per month. In other words, we have trebled that which was in Labor’s last year in office. So our actions speak a lot louder than the words spoken by Brendan O’Connor and Bill Shorten in recent times. Having said that, the unemployment level of 6.1 per cent is, of course, still too high.
That is why as a Government we are absolutely focussed on ensuring that we get the economy back into shape. That’s why we got rid of the carbon tax, got rid of the mining tax, belatedly, but nevertheless we’ve achieved that. The Free Trade Agreements, and the one with Japan starts today, will see real employment potential there. We then have the red and green tape that we are removing, the $50 billion infrastructure fund – all designed to ensure that our economy grows. And the reason we want the economy to grow is for the job opportunities that that creates.
If I might say the figures do bounce around from time to time, that is acknowledged, but I’m sure everybody likes to see them bounce in this direction, especially in circumstances where the participation rate has increased and the unemployment rate has decreased. Tasmania is doing exceptionally well, and I congratulate the State Government in Tasmania on the achievements thus far. But, of course, a lot more still has to be done on that front as well.
QUESTION: In terms of where the jobs are being created, what industries are – or what areas and industries are they actually being created in?
MINISTER ABETZ: In recent times I’ve been able to announce the huge increase in jobs in the agricultural sector, which has been on the decline for well over a decade and it has seen real and genuine jobs growth. So that is one area. The services sector is another area which has been growing and will grow, I believe, even further, on the back of the free trade agreement, where we have very generous arrangements now with Japan, South Korea, and the Chinese free trade agreement where our health services, aged care services, accounting services, legal services are all going to be given access into very, very large markets. So we have seen growth in these areas, but there is potential for even further growth given the Free Trade Agreements.
QUESTION: And you said there’s obviously room for improvement. As Employment Minister, what is the unemployment figure that you are working towards by this term?
MINISTER ABETZ: I’ve said at all times that the goal has to be zero unemployment. Now, that is a goal that is, of course, hardly likely to be achieved. But unless you have that figure fixed in your mind, you will take the eye off the ball if you think a 5 per cent figure might be acceptable. Indeed, I recall in the Howard Government era, everybody said you couldn’t get unemployment below the 4 per cent mark and just after we left office it in fact went down to 3.9 per cent. And, of course, that’s the Labor legacy, 3.9 per cent unemployment which they inherited, gone up to 5.7 when they lost office. But in their last Budget they estimated a trajectory of even higher unemployment, up to 6.25 per cent. So from the Government’s point of view, we want to get a job for every single Australian that wants work, and as we speak there are still about 750,000 of our fellow Australians that don’t have a job. And our task is to try and find each and every one of those of our fellow Australians a job.
QUESTION: The figure is a bit more positive than anticipated. What do you think are the contributing factors to that?
MINISTER ABETZ: With unemployment figures, they come each month. They do bounce around. As a result of which, you do need to look at the trend. But I think the trend has shown that there is a greater confidence in employment creation. And what are the reasons for that? There is greater confidence in the Government of Australia to deliver good sound policy.
We have got rid of the carbon tax, we have got rid of the mining tax. There are bright lights on the horizon with a Free Trade Agreement. The Japanese one kicking in today, which, of course, is wonderful news for our agricultural and services sectors. Getting rid of red and green tape. My colleague Greg Hunt, Minister for the Environment, has got rid of a backlog of environmental approvals of over $1 trillion worth of projects, projects that the Labor Green government previously wouldn’t deal with, because they were concerned about what the Greens might do if those projects were approved.
So, in – on all fronts, be it the Minister for Trade Andrew Robb, the Minister for the Environment Greg Hunt or the Parliamentary Secretary – former Parliamentary Secretary – Josh Frydenberg getting rid of red and green tape – all of those factors coming together to provide some of the good figures that we have seen today.
QUESTION: In Tasmania, obviously, unemployment has been a significant issue. We’re seeing the process of our State Government laying off public servants over the next few months, next year. Are you concerned that that’s going to see our numbers bounce again?
MINISTER ABETZ: The reality is that Government, of itself, cannot create employment. What government does is create the environment whereby the private sector employs. And to suggest that you can somehow overcome the unemployment figures by employing more public servants with borrowed money is a short-term solution that has a very nasty ending as we have seen in countries all around the world and that is why Peter Gutwein, in particular, is ensuring that the Tasmanian public service is getting on to a sustainable footing and I am charged with the same task in Canberra to ensure that the Federal bureaucracy is curtailed to be more lean and more efficient for the benefit of the Australian people. And we have seen over the past 12 months, a decrease in the Federal public service of about 10,000 people.
QUESTION: So, is the view of keeping these numbers going downwards, what other sectors you’ll be focussing on over the next few months to see the improvement in employment?
MINISTER ABETZ: As a Government, we will focus on all sectors. The resources sector got the double whammy of the carbon tax and the mining tax, apart from the external factors. The agricultural sector will get real benefits from the free trade agreements. Small business, in particular, will have benefits by the removal of the red and green tape. And the construction sector will benefit hugely from our $50 billion – that’s $50 thousand million – infrastructure plan that we want to roll out around Australia. So, it doesn’t matter what sector you’re in, there are real prospects in every one of them as a result of our holistic approach to government policy.
QUESTION: Could you just talk about the Government’s backdown on the GP changes?
MINISTER ABETZ: Look, my colleague Sussan Ley had an extensive media conference earlier today and I don’t want to add to anything that she’s said other than that the leadership of the party determined that the announcement that Sussan Ley made today was the right approach to take.
QUESTION: Many of your colleagues in the Senate are determined not to see it passed though. Are you confident you can start rallying the troops and maybe give them a clear way forward?
MINISTER ABETZ: Well, the changes that were announced today I’m sure will be considered seriously by all Senators and I hope that this will be the circuit breaker where we can move forward to ensure that we protect people with Medicare whilst also ensuring that it is sustainable into the future. All right, thank you very much. Great, thank you.