The Crest of the Commonwealth of Australia Treasury Portfolio Ministers
Picture of Peter Costello

Peter Costello

Treasurer

11 March 1996 - 3 December 2007

Transcript of 09/03/2006

Press Conference
Treasury Place, Melbourne

Thursday, 9 March 2006
12.00 noon

SUBJECTS: February Labour Force Figures, Qantas, industrial relations, Kooyong, Chinese market

TREASURER:

Labour force figures for the month of February have shown that the number of jobs in Australia increased by about 26,000 with good gains in full-time employment of around 6,000 jobs and gains in part-time employment for around 20,000.

As a consequence of this the unemployment rate fell in the month of February. It fell back to 5.2 per cent. And importantly this is now the thirtieth month in a row where unemployment has been below 6 per cent the longest period of low unemployment at that level since we began collecting statistics in 1978.

So, unemployment is low and job creation continues in the Australian economy. In fact if we look back over the last year, over the last year here in Australia 170,000 new jobs have been created and most of those jobs have been full-time jobs. And in the last month we saw an increase of 26,000 jobs.

Australia can continue increasing jobs and giving opportunities to young people if we keep our economy growing, if we lock in low inflation, if we keep interest rates low and if we make sure that we keep our Federal Budget on track. These are the great tasks of economic policy and the pay-off is jobs better job opportunities here in Australia today than there have been since we began collecting monthly statistics 30 years ago.

But we have to work to keep it. So I welcome these figures these figures are consistent with continuing economic growth and continuing growing of the economy.

JOURNALIST:

Treasurer, Qantas is expected to announce the movement of several thousand jobs offshore this afternoon. Are you worried about the increasing trend of offshoring and what effect that is going to have on the unemployment rate?

TREASURER:

Well we will see what Qantas announces. I don't know what their announcement will be and I think that Qantas as an Australian airline has very good opportunities to continue providing jobs for Australians and I hope it does. But we will see what its announcement is. Sure there are some areas, particularly in manufacturing, where Australian manufacturers have created businesses overseas but when you put together all of the people that have invested overseas and all of the people from overseas that have invested here and when you add up all of the job changes as a consequence of that we have 170,000 additional jobs in Australia to what we had last year. So we are a long way in front. We are 170,000 in front over the last year and if you want to go back over the 10 years of this Government there has been a net increase of 1.7 million new jobs. So we are even further in front over the decade.

JOURNALIST:

Would the Government step in if Qantas did make a decision to the send jobs offshore?

TREASURER:

Well look, this is a matter for Qantas but the Government has recently made, the Federal Government has recently made a number of announcements which were of enormous advantage to Qantas. Announcements in relation to the Pacific route, in particular, so I would expect that Qantas would want to recognise the importance of Australia to its business, of Australia's employees to its business, and of Australia's customers to its business and I would recommend that it take all of those matters into account.

JOURNALIST:

Treasurer do you see the need for further industrial relations reforms as earmarked in your job creation (inaudible)?

TREASURER:

Let's just bear this in mind, the changes in industrial relations which were passed by the Parliament last year haven't even come into effect yet. Legislation has been passed but it hasn't taken effect. Now the important thing in my mind is when it takes effect, and it will probably take effect towards the latter part of this month, that people take advantage of them. It is not just enough to pass a law. If you pass a law and you make it easier for employers and employees to negotiate, you have then got to get people using those laws and I think it is going to take some time before we get utilisation of the laws and that is our focus, getting the laws effective and utilised. That is going to be the important thing over years to come.

JOURNALIST:

But do you see scope for further reform of the industrial relations regime in Australia?

TREASURER:

Well we haven't even done this reform. So, I would like to do this reform and make this reform work. That is what I would like to do.

JOURNALIST:

Do you agree with your Cabinet colleague Nick Minchin that the majority of Australians are violently opposed to the current set of changes?

TREASURER:

I am not sure that any of us is in a position to judge public opinion on these changes until such time as we have experienced them. I think what is going to happen in fact with these changes is that there is not going to be any great revolution, that people are going to find it easier to negotiate, that wages will be stronger and that productivity will go up. And I think if all of that happens rather than people being opposed to the changes they will look back and they will say we always supported those changes, what wise changes they were. It is a bit like the GST, everybody had a theory about how GST would work in Australia and some of them were bizarre. There were some people that were saying GST would cause more accidents on the road, the hairdressers association said GST would increase male baldness, I remember that claim being made. When the GST came in, life went on, the economy was strong and most people would say to you, yeah that wasn't a bad change. And I think that is what is going to happen in relation to Industrial Relations.

JOURNALIST:

Do you still have a connection with the HR Nicholls society?

TREASURER:

Oh, I am invited to speak at their conferences from time to time and I do, but only when I am invited to speak.

JOURNALIST:

But you were at the foundation (inaudible)

TREASURER:

Absolutely

JOURNALIST:

You are not a member?

TREASURER:

I don't believe so, but I certainly, when I am invited to speak I go.

JOURNALIST:

What was the last time you addressed them?

TREASURER:

I probably addressed the annual meeting a year or two ago. I can't quite remember what it was one or two. I gave the same speech that Senator Minchin did this year.

JOURNALIST:

Same IR issues?

TREASURER:

Well IR issues are IR issues.

JOURNALIST:

On Kooyong, do you think Petro Georgiou will be challenged?

TREASURER:

Well that is a matter for the challengers. In the Liberal Party you are entitled to nominate for pre-selection if you are a member. If you do challenge a pre-selection convention is convened and the delegates vote. No union bosses are allowed in Liberal Party pre-selection conventions and the union bosses don't instruct the delegates how to vote. And it is up to challengers I guess to, whether they will challenge or not.

JOURNALIST:

If he was challenged would he have your support?

TREASURER:

Yes, I support all of my colleagues who are members of the House of Representatives. I am the Deputy Leader of the Liberal Party and they have reposed their trust in me and in return I repose my trust in them. So I will be supporting all my colleagues.

JOURNALIST:

Treasurer, are you concerned about the role China looks to be taking in high ore price negotiation at the moment?

TREASURER:

I think it is important that in international contracts, supply be guaranteed for reliable suppliers in return for prices negotiated in a free negotiation. I don't think countries can lock up resources I think the best way of ensuring reliable supply is with market prices and it is the market price which sends the signal back for investment, investment which produces the product and guarantees supply and I think it is important in international negotiations that we have free contracts and market prices, reliable suppliers and strong investment.

JOURNALIST:

You have heard this talk of the caps on the priceis true?

TREASURER:

I have heard of talk about it, I don't have a first hand engagement in the negotiation of those contracts and I can't take it any further, I regret to inform you.

JOURNALIST:

The thirty months of sustained unemployment rate below six percent do you see that continuing on further and particularly will the IR reforms have an impact on that? Do you see unemployment perhaps (inaudible)?

TREASURER:

Ten years ago you would not have thought it possible to have five percent unemployment in Australia. And here we are, we have five percent unemployment more or less now for two and a half years. This is extraordinary. The lowest sustained period of unemployment since we began measuring monthly unemployment rates thirty years ago. I think with a growing economy we can continue that and I think with better industrial relations it will be possible over time to structurally reduce the unemployment rate. But changes that we have put in place are not yet effective, people have not yet taken advantage of them and we will have to see how they go.

JOURNALIST:

Do you thinkunemployment rates rising through the duration (inaudible)?

TREASURER:

Well we will put out our new forecast at Budget time. Ok thanks very much, thanks.