Bill's Transcripts

Sky Business News

SUBJECTS: labour force figures

BILL SHORTEN:        labour force figures released by the Australian Bureau of Statistics show that seasonally adjusted employment has risen strongly in May, increasing by thirty-eight-thousand-nine-hundred to a record high of eleven-and-a-half million plus Australians working in May. The results are well above market expectations and show that Australia continues to lead the world strongly in terms of jobs.

                                       Full-time employment lifted by forty-six thousand last month to over eight million-one-hundred thousand Australians, which is the highest number ever on record for Australians working full-time. Despite today's solid employment growth of course, it must be acknowledged that unemployment has edged slightly upwards to five-point-one per cent. This shows that people are still doing it very tough in some parts of Australia.

                                       However, participation rates - the number of Australians who go to work every day, seeking work every day who seek to go to work - that number has increased as well from sixty-five-point-two per cent to sixty-five-point-five per cent. Or in other words, more Australians are encouraged - feel encouraged to look for work than they did in April. So, we think Australians deserve a pat on the back. There are a lot of difficult circumstances all around the world, but Australians are sending a message to the rest of the world that they area willing to work hard, and they're looking for work, and they are finding work in record numbers.

                                       This number also confirms - this number of five-point-one per cent unemployment and the related employment statistics - show that since the Labour Government was elected, eight-hundred-and-thirty-five thousand jobs had been created in Australia. This is in stark contrast to the rest of the industrialised world, where literally tens of millions of jobs have disappeared.

                                       So I think that whilst the economic news is mixed in terms of spreading the need to spread the benefits of the mining boom, I think that we can all recognise that today's numbers are relatively good news, with unemployment not quite going up as far as the market expected. So I think in summary, what we see is that the news of the last few days shows that, despite all the doom and gloom, there is good news out there for Australians.

                                       Let me briefly recap that good news before going to questions. The good news is that productivity is up. The good news is that lost time industrial action is down. The good news is that we have a pipeline of projects and capital expenditure in Australia which is as high as we've ever seen. It shows - the news is also that more Australians are working than ever before, and the other good news is that interest rates continue to go down. It's been well over a hundred basis points in the last year alone.

                                       So whilst there are difficulties, and the mining boom hasn't reached all parts of the economy, vindicating the necessity of the Government's most recent budgets to return to surplus and share the benefits of the mining boom, on balance, Australians can have a little bit of spring in their step, because the news is better than expected. Happy to take questions.

QUESTION:                 [Inaudible question]

BILL SHORTEN:        Well I think that for all the job losses which get covered in the press, and they are real, and the Government is most committed to helping people who have been displaced, be it at Qantas or elsewhere to find work, the reality is that there are sections of the economy which are working well, not just the mining sector. In the last twelve months alone, there's been tens of thousands of jobs created for instance in the health and aged care services sector.

                                       Whilst manufacturing has been knocked about, it hasn't been knocked about as severely, I think, as some have reported it to be. So on balance, it's not just a two-speed economy, but in fact it's a multiple speed economy, and we are seeing some areas doing well, and other areas doing it hard.

QUESTION:                 [Inaudible question]

BILL SHORTEN:        Well I think it's a mixed message. I just think the economy has mixed strengths and weaknesses. There are parts of Australia which are not doing it well. However, when you do get good news, you’ve got to acknowledge good news, and we were expecting the numbers perhaps to be worse than they are in terms of unemployment. There's no doubt in my mind that the RBA decisions to lower the cash rate helped engender confidence.

Confidence can't always be measured by economic statistics, but it's as real as the person sitting next to you on the train or the tram. And therefore, if we've got a more confident outlook, then people make decisions to spend, not save. People make decisions to invest, not hold off those decisions. I think for me, our economy is doing relatively better than many other parts of the world, but it's not a clear-cut across the board set of good numbers, and that there are pockets where we're not doing as well.

Some states aren't doing as well. Youth unemployment was slightly higher; women's unemployment has increased slightly. So there is good news out there, but we also have to be honest and recognise that the mining boom has been a mixed blessing for parts of the Australian economy. And the turmoil in Europe adds to uncertainty, but there's some counterbalancing, countervailing good news here, which I think the national account figures and some of the numbers in recent days show that Australia is perhaps doing better than we think.

QUESTION:                 [Inaudible question]

BILL SHORTEN:        Well, I think there's a couple of things which the Gillard Government did in the most recent budget which were of assistance to all states. First of all, whilst we were disappointed we couldn't convince the negative team, the coalition to support our cuts to corporate tax, which would have been excellent news for business all over Australia, we are able to use the proceeds of the MRRT, or the mining tax, to provide families with children of school age, primary school and secondary school age, the money to help pay the bills to make ends meet for those necessary costs of schools.

You know, for sending kids to schools. That's good for the high street retailer, because mum and dad are out there paying for the school uniforms, the school books, the other things which kids need to be able to sustain them at school. So we're using the mining boom to help stimulate confidence through parents into retail.

I also think that Government policies supporting our automotive industry are important. What we're doing to assist with the aluminium - support for the aluminium industry, for the steel industry, show that in our traditional manufacturing strengths, we're still able to help ensure that as the economy adjusts, people get more support than they otherwise would.

Again, our support for industry is in stark contrast to the Opposition, who won't support the car industry, who don't have a steel transformation plan, who haven't articulated what they do with the aluminium industry - which are all important decisions to states such as Victoria and South Aust - and Tasmania.

QUESTION:                 The pressure of the Prime Minister and the Treasurer have been talking up the GDP figures yesterday and the economy in general. What about Tony Abbot's point that that's actually a rear view, looking backwards, and today's numbers are just another harbinger of economic problems on the horizon? Is that a fair assessment of the economy?

BILL SHORTEN:        Whenever the news is better than worse for Australia, why is it that Mr Abbot always looks like he's just sucked on a lemon? I can't disguise the sense of sourness. Now I'm not pretending - I live in the real world, I talk to real people, I understand families have got to make ends meet, but the glass is not always half empty. I recognise, and I know that families who have been dislocated by job closures - be it at Qantas on the border of my electorate or elsewhere - so I understand not all news is good news.

                                       But I also know, that not all news is bad news and when you get economic data which shows Australia is doing okay, I think people in public life have a responsibility not just to be negative but to also provide some hope about the future.

                                       These numbers in themselves - they're no guarantee for the future, but if the news is good, you don't always have to look like you've sucked on a lemon when you hear it.

QUESTION:                 [Inaudible question]

BILL SHORTEN:        Well, I've been watching this matter. First of all, like most Australians, I've never worked in a school. But like every Australian, who I've become, in part, is because of the quality of Australian teachers. I may at some point have to become involved if the Baillieu Government and the teachers are unable to resolve their differences. I hope they can. I don't particularly want to take sides because I may have to get involved in helping fix it if the Baillieu Government can't.

                                       But what I do know is that if you've got the biggest teacher strike ever in the history of Victoria, if you've got tens of thousands of teachers taking, as a last resort, a step at not getting paid for the day, of not working with the kids for the day, which I know is very important to teachers - if you have tens of thousands of teachers turning up to say we're not happy with the deal we're getting, then I think the challenge is upon the Baillieu Government to get its act together.

                                       If it was just a few teachers in a few poor - in a few schools, you'd say oh well, maybe they're out of line. But to have - teachers are very dedicated professional people who study hard to become teachers. I think it is true to say that teacher's wages haven't kept up in the way which other sectors have advanced forward.

                                       Once upon a time, if your son or daughter was to become a teacher, that was as good as getting a job in the bank. It was as good as getting a job in another profession. Somewhere along the line, some of our private sector callings have become better remunerated - like financial services. You've got relatively young people in their late twenties, early thirties earning three times what teacher's earn.

                                       So, I think that there is a challenge here, but I'm confident that given professional negotiation between the state conservative government and the teachers' representatives, they should be able to arrive at a happy outcome. But in the meantime, I do certainly understand the teachers may have a point and they should be listened to respectfully.

QUESTION:                 [Inaudible question]

BILL SHORTEN:        Our Government's been attacked by the Opposition, which is nothing surprising, and they say that some of our forecasts are overly optimistic. Your question says that maybe we're being overly pessimistic. I think you'll find that our Treasury forecasts, and we still stand by them, are taking a mid-point - not too much blue sky, but not too much rainy day.

                                       So, I’d still think there is softness in the labour market and, of course, we've yet to see the full uncertainty of Europe play out. But by the same token, I think your question - the assumption of your question is right that the numbers we've seen - for the course of this year it's been five-point-two, five-point-one, five-point-two, four-point-nine and now five-point-one again.

                                       Each month - I've sort of held my breath as Employment Minister and wondered if there'd be stronger bad news, but I'd have to say that there's something happening in the Australian economy. People are participating. People are trying to do their best. So I'd stand by our forecasts. On the other hand, I'd acknowledge that Australians are certainly showing that in difficult times, they haven't stopped working.

QUESTION:                 [Inaudible question]

BILL SHORTEN:        Well, there's no - I think I said earlier that youth employment scenario, which I think deserves attention. We're providing some of that attention. We're focusing on postcodes and areas of great economic disadvantage. Our part-time employment numbers have been climbing regularly over the last number of months. There has been a slight drop off.

What's pleasing is two other factors, though. One is the number of full-time jobs that were recorded by the ABS. The other thing which is pleasing is the increase in participation rate. I mean, some people who might have previously been discouraged job seekers are putting their hand up to have another crack. So, it's a matter of working with particular groups in particular regions to make sure they're getting support, which we're providing, and at the same token, it's recognising some of the strengths which are emerging.

QUESTION:                 [Inaudible question]

BILL SHORTEN:        Undoubtedly. When the cash rate is high, when there's a relentless talking down of the Australian economy - and certainly there's the very real consequences of a loss of confidence due to what's happening in parts of the Eurozone. That all has an impact on confidence.

                                       But the latest decision by the RBA to lower rates, I think, reflects the need to stimulate confidence. I think that the capacity of the Government to get the budget back into surplus helps confidence. I also think that what we're seeing is the growth in some sectors of Australian economy, not just mining, is also providing some money back into the system. It's all about confidence.

QUESTION:                 Just a last question. Just on rates. Yesterday we saw the RBA cut rates, but with yesterday's GDP figures and today's rise in unemployment, do you think that gives the banks an excuse not to pass on that full cut to their customers?

BILL SHORTEN:        No, I don't. I get that there's an increased cost of capital, but the banks haven't fully passed on some of the last two rate reductions. I think - again, these are commercial decisions for banks and whenever you criticise a bank, you're accused of bank bashing.

                                       So, my observation is what we need in this economy is confidence. It's not enough simply to say that because of political argument there's no confidence. We see a massive pipeline of projects. We see the Government spreading the benefits of the boom throughout the Australian economy for support for families.

                                       We see more money being spent on skills and training than the Commonwealth's ever spent before. We see productivity moving upwards for the first time. We've got the highest productivity numbers since June of 2004. Our national account figures were strong. We have more Australians working than ever.

                                       I think there is an opportunity that, whilst things are tough, I think Australians need to recognise that there are some aspects of what's going on Australia that we should be confident about, especially when you compare it the rest of the world. So I hope the banks realise