Thank you for coming along to Ainslie Village today. My name is Andrew Leigh, the Assistant Minister for Competition, Charities, Treasury and Employment. I should say at the outset that we're holding this press conference in the afternoon rather than the morning, because I was running an ultramarathon this morning, part of the Stromlo Running Festival, which is a terrific running participation event here in the ACT, with hundreds of people participating in this great community festival.
Participation is a key priority for the Albanese Government and in this week's labour force figures, we saw the participation rate increase. We also saw an unemployment rate again with a three in front of it, with unemployment now at 3.7 per cent – full employment by anyone's definition. This means that of the 20 months since 1978 when unemployment has been below 4 per cent that 17 of those 20 months have been under this Labor government. We've also seen welcome news on the wages front, with real wages rising for a second consecutive quarter. Real wages were kept low under the former government as a deliberate design feature of their economic architecture. Real wages are rising under this government because of a deliberate design feature of our economic architecture. We argued for an increase to the minimum wage, we funded an increase in pay for aged care workers. And you can see the benefits of that flowing through in the wages figures that have come out in the in the recent days.
We're here in front of Ainslie Village, a social housing facility in the ACT to announce an important initiative between the ACT and Federal Government. This is funding for around 5,000 public housing home premises to have their energy efficiency improved. This might involve for example, the replacement of an inefficient gas appliance with a new efficient electric appliance. We know that Canberra, beautiful as it is, can be pretty cold in winter, and pretty hot in summer. Much of the ACT’s public housing is more than 20 years old, and so doesn’t come up to modern energy efficiency standards. These investments will reduce the cost of heating and cooling ACT public homes, benefiting some 5,000 families who live in these homes. It's all part of what the Albanese Government is doing to put downward pressure on cost of living, particularly for vulnerable Australians.
The 60 day prescribing reforms that we put in place will halve the cost of getting access to medicines for people with a long term health condition. The increase in the bulk‑billing incentive is the largest increase in bulk billing funding in the 40‑year history of Medicare. The increase in Commonwealth Rent Assistance is the largest increase in Commonwealth rent assistance in the 30‑year history of that program.
The energy bill rebates that we're providing are flowing to thousands of families across Australia. For the more than 50,000 ACT families who will receive the benefit of those energy bill rebates the benefit will be on average around $300. Alongside that we've got our important childcare reforms. Without them, the Australian Bureau of Statistics estimates that in the last quarter, childcare costs would have gone up 13 per cent. With them, childcare costs went down 7 per cent.
The Albanese Government recognises that we need to get inflation down, and that the Reserve Bank's independent decisions to raise interest rates do have an impact on the hip pockets of many Australian households. That's why we're providing this responsible targeted cost of living relief, while not engaging in the sort of unfunded cash splash that our predecessors engaged in. We've delivered the first surplus in 15 years, a testament to what responsible economic management can deliver. Never forget, the former government said that they would deliver a surplus in their first year and every year after that, and yet failed to deliver even one surplus.
Any questions? Thanks.