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 07/12/06

Doorstop Interview
Senate Courtyard
Parliament House, Canberra

Thursday, 7 December 2006
11.50 am

SUBJECTS: November Labour Force figures, unemployment benefits, WorkChoices, Shadow Treasurer, childcare tax rebates

TREASURER:

As we head into Christmas the great news is there are more Australians in work than ever before. Unemployment is at 4.6 per cent, below 5 per cent for the seventh month in a row. And we saw in the month of November 57,000 new full-time jobs created. This is extraordinary jobs growth in the Australian economy. We have now had around about a quarter of a million new jobs in this year, in 2006 and about 200,000 new jobs since the introduction of WorkChoices. So those people that said WorkChoices was going to lead to less jobs or lower wages have been proven wrong. I am not saying that WorkChoices created all of these jobs but you can confidently say that WorkChioces was not anti-job, if following its introduction you have had 200,000 new jobs.

JOURNALIST:

Is that as close to full employment as we are going to get?

TREASURER:

Well, once upon a time full employment in Australia was defined as 5 per cent, that was the 5 per cent target that everybody talked about in the late 80s, early 90s. Look where we are now – 4.6 per cent. I have always made this point that the unemployment rate goes up and down, it is a bit like a saw tooth, so the important thing is that is has now been below 5 per cent for seven months in a row and what that tells you is that it has moved down a notch. We have gone below what used to be considered full employment. Now, we don’t actually know what full employment is now because we are outside the range but seeing as the economy is still producing jobs at the rate that it is, we should try and get unemployment lower. Here is what we should try and do – have a job for everyone who wants one and it is clear there are still some people who are looking for work who don’t have jobs, and we should try and create opportunities for them, we must encourage more people who are on welfare to start entering the labour market, we should encourage them and let’s just see how far we can go.

JOURNALIST:

With economic growth slowing, I mean how long do you expect this is going to last?

TREASURER:

Well this is an interesting point, isn’t it? We saw in the National Accounts yesterday that growth was slowing a lot and yet we see in the labour force figures today that employment growth is still booming – 36,000 new jobs, 57,000 new full-time jobs – employment is a lagging indicator but you normally wouldn’t see such robust increase in an economy which is slowing. Now, it is an interesting point as to how and why this is happening. It may well be that people are more confident at putting on employees in the aftermath of WorkChoices.

JOURNALIST:

Might there be something wrong with those growth figures?

TREASURER:

Oh well no, we take all of the figures as they are reported by the ABS. Look, you and I know they get revised from time to time but what did the growth figures of yesterday say – 2.6 per cent in the non-farm economy – that is still a pretty decent rate of growth. The big detraction was coming out of the drought. So there is still a decent rate of growth but you wouldn’t actually think it was the kind of growth that would produce 36,000 new jobs in the month. You wouldn’t normally think that. I think something structural may well have gone on in the labour market. It appears that employers are now more confident of hiring people, and they have gone out and they have done it. They have done it at the rate of a quarter of a million over the course of the year. You know, think about that.

JOURNALIST:

So you are crediting WorkChoices?

TREASURER:

Look, no, no, I think, here is what I think. I think jobs are created in a growing economy, that is what I think. I think that if you have a more flexible industrial relations system people have greater confidence to respond to that growing economy.

JOURNALIST:

Do you support child care being tax deductible and would that encourage more parents into the workforce?

TREASURER:

Look, we will wait to see the report. I know a report is coming because I read an exclusive report of it in your newspaper last Sunday. But I will wait to actually read the report rather than comment on the newspaper.

JOURNALIST:

Treasurer have you set a date yet for the Mid-Year Review?

TREASURER:

I will try and do it before Christmas.

JOURNALIST:

Does it surprise you that New South Wales is doing so well in jobs growth? It seems to be much the same in all States.

TREASURER:

I think that unemployment actually rose in New South Wales, so that would be consistent with New South Wales being a bit slower than the rest of the States. But here is the interesting fact: although economic growth is not booming, jobs growth is and that is happening all around Australia. Now, it may well be that people are putting on employees and they will slow their employment growth next year, that is quite possible. But you would have to say, I doubt that we have seen a year like this. A quarter of a million new jobs in the space of one year. You know, think of the ACTU audience at the MCG where they got 40,000, I want you to think of six times that crowd, because that is the number of people that got jobs this year. Six times the crowd the ACTU pulled out to the MCG. And since the introduction of WorkChoices, five times the crowd got new jobs that they pulled out to the MCG.

JOURNALIST:

Do you think the Government should be doing more to encourage young people off the dole?

TREASURER:

Well I think we should encourage young people off the dole and here is the reason. Their chances of getting a job are better than they have been for 30 years. And I would say to any young person, really, there are job opportunities going in this society. If you are prepared to work you can find a job and I don’t think there is any need for a young person to be on the dole in modern Australia with a 4.6 per cent unemployment rate.

JOURNALIST:

(inaudible) that it is too easy for young people to stay on the dole?

TREASURER:

Well we do have work tests. They are required to present for job interviews, that should be rigorously enforced. And here is my message to them. If they don’t present for job interviews or if they don’t take a job that they are offered at one of those interviews then they shouldn’t stay on the dole.

JOURNALIST:

Do you buy the argument that actually there is a shortage of labour and that is constraining growth?

TREASURER:

Yes, I think a bigger problem in Australia than the inability to find a job is the inability to find a worker. I think we moved past that critical point where unemployment is now so low the problem is not the lack of jobs but a lack of workers. It is another reason why I would say to young people, you don’t have to be on the dole in this society, there are job opportunities going. And in a market now where we do have a shortage of labour, why should taxpayers have to pay some people who are not in work if those people can find work? And I don’t think taxpayers should have to pay their hard-earned taxes towards unemployment benefits if people on them aren’t serious about finding work.

JOURNALIST:

Does this put pressure on inflation and keep the Reserve Bank (inaudible) next year?

TREASURER:

I, look, let’s wait until we get the inflation figures and I will say something about inflation.

JOURNALIST:

This is slightly off-track, but who do you think would make a better Shadow Treasurer, Wayne Swan or Lindsay Tanner or perhaps someone else?

TREASURER:

Well I think Julia Gillard should be the Shadow Treasurer. She is the Deputy Leader and if you are the Deputy Leader you normally step up to the major job and I would be very surprised if she doesn’t do that. You know, why change the leadership and keep all of those tired old horses cantering around on the frontbench?

JOURNALIST:

Do you think there is much more growth in the participation rate?

TREASURER:

Oh we will see. Any other nice questions like that?

JOURNALIST:

For the people who are not in these figures, you alluded to the people who are not looking for work and not even counted as unemployed, it’s 250,000 (inaudible) 25-54 who are not in these figures and that is over the long-term, that proportion is growing, can you see any way of cutting through to get those…?

TREASURER:

Look, I think a lot of those people will be on disability pensions, they will be characterised as disabled for one reason or another. I think many of the younger ones will be so characterised because they have psychiatric or drug addiction or alcohol addiction problems. It’s a very sad thing to see so many young people in our society that do have those problems. I can’t help but think that some of it is related to drug and alcohol abuse. Those people need treatment, they deserve treatment, we hope that the treatment is such that they are able to return to the workforce, I have no doubt if they do return to the workforce that will help their treatment in turn. But the Government has made a huge investment in mental health issues quite recently and it is designed to help those people as much as anybody else.

JOURNALIST:

Treasurer, have you had any luck filling the job of the Deputy Governor of the Central Bank?

TREASURER:

When I have something to announce I will tell you. Thank you.