Nov 10, 2003

Mr Costello’s full employment fantasy


MEDIA RELEASE: Anthony Albanese – 10 November 2003

Reports today of Treasurer Peter Costello belatedly acknowledgement that the “objective of economic policy” is the attainment of full employment, while welcomed, fails to recognise the significance of the challenge still before us if this objective is to be truly realised.

While the Howard Government basks in the glow of a headline unemployment rate of 5.6%, the true state of the labour market remains largely hidden from public debate.

Despite more than a decade of economic growth the numbers of very long term unemployed – those claiming unemployment benefits for more than 2 years – has doubled under the Howard Government to 281,300.

The reason for this extraordinary growth in very long-term unemployment is obvious: new jobs inevitably go to new entrants into the labour market and not the long-term unemployed. This was the experience from the economic recoveries of both the 1980’s and 1990’s.

The Government’s Job Network is simply not working for the long-term unemployed.

While the current Government believes that forcing jobseekers to attend numerous meetings will lead to future employment opportunities, Labor recognises that without relevant skills and recent experience in a mainstream workplace, the long-term unemployed will continue to find it difficult convincing employers to take them on. Job Network providers need additional resources in order to provide genuine assistance to the long-term unemployed such as training, retraining and wage subsidies.

Furthermore, Mr Costello’s focus on the headline unemployment rate ignores the following underlying facts:

• 860,000 children now live in families where neither parent works;

• more than 600,000 part-time workers want more hours of work;

• unemployment amongst our Indigenous communities is currently six times the national average;

• communities in areas such Wide Bay in Queensland, the Tweed and the Illawarra in New South Wales and northern Tasmania have unemployment rates over 10%; and

• 1,100,000 people of working age are outside the labour market and depended on benefits, including those with disabilities or health problems and sole parents.

Instead of engaging in gratuitous self-gratification, Treasurer Costello should acknowledge that the financial security that comes with having a job still eludes many Australians.

Only Labor is committed to full employment across all regions of Australia.