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The Coalition’s False Employment Boast

Bill Shorten addressed the National Press Club on Tuesday and committed a future Labor government to a policy of full employment. When asked by Leigh Sales on ABC’s 7.30 Tuesday evening what he considered to be an acceptable unemployment level, he said 5%.

It was a safe answer, but not the right answer. Full employment should mean just that; he should have answered, 0%. Full employment means a full time job for everyone who wants one and a part time job for everyone who wants one.

Anything less is not full employment. Whether or not Bill Shorten understands this, is open to conjecture. But on the other side of the parliamentary chamber, they don’t even care. Full employment is anathema to conservative, neo-classical politics.

Their most recent mantra, ‘jobs and growth’ is a smokescreen to hide their conviction that a minimum level of unemployment (somewhere between 5-8%), is needed to maintain an orderly workforce and control wages growth.

The present level has been hovering around 6% for the last two years and is probably right on the mark for them, evidenced by their lack of interest in reducing it.

Unemployment dropped to 5.8% for February due to a steep fall in the participation rate, but the trend figures are not encouraging, even worse when we compare February 2016 results with September 2013, when the Coalition came to office.

The ambivalence demonstrated by the government on the issue of employment is breathtaking. That the MSM allows them to get away with it, is outrageous.

Minister for Employment, Michaela Cash salivated recently over the claim that 300,000 new jobs had been created in 2015, but could not point to one convincing government initiative that had contributed to it. Well, let’s take a closer look at those figures.

You may remember one of Tony Abbott’s core election promises in 2013 was the creation of one million jobs over the next five years and two million jobs in ten years.

What he didn’t tell us was that natural population growth plus immigration requires around 125,000 new jobs to be created each year just to maintain existing levels of employment. Boasting to create one million jobs in five years sounds impressive, but in reality, it barely covers the minimum required.

And, as it happens, they have Buckley’s chance of achieving that.

The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) figures show the September 2013 unemployment rate was 5.7% in trend terms. At that time there were 706,400 unemployed. In February 2016, unemployment was trending at 5.8% with 736,600 people unemployed, meaning unemployment has increased by 30,200 over the past 2 years and 5 months.

The same ABS reports show that 11,646,800 persons were employed in Australia in September 2013, while in February 2016 that number was 11,903,100. This tells us that there were 256,000 new jobs created over the past 2 years and 5 months (a big drop from that short term 300,000 in one year boast).

However, it gets worse. From an available workforce in September 2013 of 12,353,200 we grew in numbers to 12,639,700 in February 2016, an increase of 286,500. Which means the 256,000 new jobs created have failed to keep pace with population growth, let alone reduce existing unemployment.

By any language or spin, this is a failure of government to sufficiently stimulate the economy.

tonyabbott Tony Abbott’s 1,000,000 new jobs in 5 years was a pipe dream. He, or whoever came up with it, might as well have dreamt it.

No doubt Scott Morrison will put the usual optimistic spin on the latest figures but when proper comparisons are made, one can clearly see, that in trend terms, we are going in the wrong direction.


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  1. Wally

    Is every person employable? Definitely not.

    Definitely agree that everybody who wants to work full time should be able to find a job, the current situation where a person working more than 1 hour a week is an insult. Many of the jobs created nowadays are casual part time positions that do not provide people with the security a couple needs to buy a home, to raise a family and progress through life the way people are entitled to.

  2. Ideflitch

    There are always people who for different reasons cannot work. Not all are physically disabled, but some are mentaly disabled in different ways, drug addicts, alcholics, women with small children and no support, wanderers, Aboriginals living in the outback where there is no work, people without English who can’t find a job. The list goes on and on. I think 5 % is a very, very low figure and if he can achieve that he will be this country’s best friend.

  3. jim

    I shudder to think what the MSM would be yelling if Labor were in power.

  4. Andrew

    Wally, the age of entitlement is over (Joe Hockey) that must include the ‘right’ to employment, which we are obvioulsy not entitled to. This must also mean payments when people are unemployed as newstart is an emntitlement.

  5. Ella

    John, interesting thoughts on employment.
    It is not often that I disagree with you.
    I do not think that BS should have answered the unemployment question in the way you suggest for many reasons.
    1; it is impossible to achieve,from memory 5% unemployment is as close you can get to full employment ..don’t remember why.
    2.As full employment is next to impossible to achieve if BS had said zero % it would come back to haunt him for the rest of his days and

  6. keerti

    About 4.5% unemployment is what accounts for those who are for one reason or another unemployable As well as the variously diabled not on disability pensions it lso has those people who are between jobs. In 2008 in Western Australia there was an unmeployment level of 4.2% for a few months there were jobs available though. Matching them might have been difficult inmany cases…you have to have reasonable customer service skills to work in Macc’a for example.

  7. Julian

    I agree Bill should say 0%. It is achievable if the government created jobs in environmental conservation, supporting homelessness, building public housing, assisting community start-ups, assisting IP and innovation to re-create the ‘lucky country’ etc. It would be far better than supporting unemployment for many reasons.

    Secondly I do not support the notion that unemployment is only 5.8%. More likely towards 15% when you look at the definition of “employment” as Wally points out.

    Labor needs to say they will create jobs and how. Give some subsidies to the car industry as other governments do and maintain our strategic interests.Similarly a steel industry, ship building, and other technologies for our own economic and security interests.

    And re-introduce tariffs as the US is doing to stop the flood of slave labour imports from countries who violate human rights and the environment such as China. Now that would stimulate manufacturing, jobs, and GDP.

  8. Truffles

    South Australia’s official unemployment rate is now 7.7%

    Hopefully pyne, edwards, bernardi, briggs, ramsey, pasin, southcott and williams will shortly be joining them.

  9. John Kelly

    Ella, Bill Mitchell believes full employment, using government as the employer of last resort, is attainable for everyone who WANTS a job. It’s an achievable goal eliminating any need to pay anyone unemployment benefits. BS doesn’t understand the full employment concept, but that doesn’t mean it can’t work. Miriam’s reference to what NZ is considering is an example, if not the real deal.

  10. Wayne Turner

    Australia has one of,if NOT the highest rate of casual employment in the world,at approx. 35% of the workforce – Plenty of that wish they got more hours and/or were in a permanent job,especially full-time. IE: We have a massive problem of underemployment.

    For my personal situation: Been working full-time for 9 years with the one company,until I was made redundant around this time last year.I was lucky then to get a similar full-time job about 2 weeks later.Was then in that job until October,when I got made redundant AGAIN,with that place closing down. YEAP I WAS MADE REDUNDANT TWICE IN THE ONE YEAR.

    Then,I was unemployed,for a few months,searching for a job,and at the same time having to deal with the millions of hoops *Centrelink & a *Job Network Non-provider made me jump through. Of course,I wanted a full-time job,but *they don’t care,they want me to take anything,even if it does NOT last.

    I found a job.A casual job in late December.Where they liked me to be available 24/7 of the place operating.So I did.I was lucky I was to get 3 -4 shifts a week.

    Until BANG two weeks ago the shop started to get quiet,very quiet.Mainly caused by really bad decisions by the full-time management of the company egs: When busy having us tell customers they MUST be or sign up with personal information us FREE members to buy items,and if they refuse,refuse to serve them.Of course we lost plenty of customers,and when busy signing people up the q’s were huge,with unhappy people NOT to return.Also,the place STILL is like a sauna with no air conditioning,which turns customers after/off and terrible for us staff.The company is getting air conditioning put in after being opened for 2 and a half years.But,it’s taking 14 weeks,and half the shop getting blocked off in the process.A totally clueless ran company.

    I am now getting 1 to 0 shifts a week. The environment is toxic,with a hypocritical (Openly chats to other manager “mates” in clear view in the shop for ages.But threatens and bulllies us casuals if we talk to a co-worker for a second,with threats of “losing shifts”.), and bullying store manager passing the buck to us.Plus,this company is owned by a BIG BUSINESS,that is listed as one of the highly profitable companies that dodge tax in Australia.IE: They pay NONE,but make millions..

    I NOW am heading back to re-register with Centrelink for New Start (I need the money for the moment),while I look for another job – A FULL-TIME JOB I want.

    The over paid pollies and MSM, don’t care,have no idea,and the high rate of casual jobs has destroyed unions and workers rights too.

    Lucky country my arse…

  11. margcal

    Remembering back to the distant days of my Economics 101 classes, 3-5% was the accepted “wriggle room” figure.

  12. Wally


    ” agree Bill should say 0%. It is achievable if the government created jobs in environmental conservation, supporting homelessness, building public housing, assisting community start-ups, assisting IP and innovation to re-create the ‘lucky country’ etc”

    Most of the areas you mention require skills and/or knowledge, unfortunately we have many people who do not have the literacy or numeric skills to do basic jobs let alone building work or IT. This is mainly due to poor standards of education, people should not fall through the gaps in the system and fixing this problem is the first step if we really want full (100%) employment.

    We need to rationalise the way we educate people to minimise the cost and maximise the benefits to our society, education should provide value for money to the tax payer, particularly tertiary education. If society got a return for every dollar the government spent on education we would not need to charge students and employees the ridiculous fees that have become the norm. Learning (education) is a life long process and people need more than a job, leaving secondary school should be the start of a career.

    We no longer have careers like we did 30-40 years ago when a school leaver would complete an apprenticeship, do extra studies at night school and advance through the workplace and/or change jobs taking on management roles backed with the knowledge of the workplace systems from the ground up. Apprenticeships are no longer taken up by those with ambition or the ability to advance because career paths begin with a university degree nowadays.

    The biggest issue with our education system is people leaving school without adequate reading and writing skills, this must be rectified post haste. If we cannot ensure every student graduating secondary school has reached a reasonable standard of education we cannot afford to fund private schools, the money needs to be spent to overhaul the public school system.

    Second biggest issue is the amount of tertiary education provided that is a complete waste of money, almost half of our university graduates never gain employment in the field they have studied. In some cases lack of employment opportunities is to blame but in others the person doesn’t like the industry, the work duties or they lack the aptitude to apply their knowledge.

    England, most of Europe and Japan all provide on the job training with career opportunities for most fields, that is why they are world leaders in industry and finance. Smarter use of our education resources is the best way to provide better education.

  13. Matters Not

    Wally, your often repeated views re ‘education’ and your assumptions re its goals and purposes are best described as ‘quaint’. ?

    I just shake my head.

  14. Olly olsen

    Your numbers look wrong…you have 11 mill unemployed. ..too many zeros?

  15. Michael Taylor

    Olly, that was the number employed, not unemployed.

  16. MichaelW

    The ABS unemployment rate is absolute crap, according to their figures anyone who does one hour per week paid or unpaid work is regarded as employed.

    Roy Morgan research figures are more accurate, according to them the unemployment rate is 10%.

    I do volunteer work for a local charity there are 250 volunteers there. At least 200 of these people are under 65 years of age, some near retirement some in their early twenties and thirties, all unable to find work, all regarded as employed, all on centrelink benefits. This is only a small charity in my area there plenty more around in the area and around Australia.

  17. Miriam English

    While I agree with almost everything said above, we have to understand that we are on the cusp of a big change where automation will render many jobs redundant and much of the population unemployable in the standard sense. We need to be looking to the future, past the blinkered vision of the elite “screw-the-workers”, “money-is-everything” mentality of the LNP, and past the soon to be obsolete “work-is-a-right” ideology of Labor. If we don’t start planning for the change now then we will be in big trouble when it smacks us between the eyes. (Given our denial over cigarettes, vaccines, sex education, renewable energy, gay marriage equality, and climate change, I’m not overly optimistic.)

    We desperately need a Universal Basic Income to cushion against the changes.

    It can be sold to the greedy, government-minimising conservatives as a way to remove much of the bureaucracy from government because we will no longer need to be handling, means-testing, and investigating pensions, dole, disability and sickness benefits. Also, their puritanical feelings of entitlement (and dis-entitlement) can be assuaged by calling it a share in Australia and pointing out that it gives more incentive to work because of the elimination of barriers (such as red tape and loss of dole or pension upon employment).

    It is easier to sell to Labor because it would protect the workers from drastic changes in society, particularly when casual work increases at the expense of full time work, but also when massive redundancies result from automation.

    It would keep economists happy (if they have minimal intelligence, which I guess excludes the LNP variety) because it would prevent the economy stagnating in the event of massive unemployment — people would still have money and would still buy things, keeping the economy running.

    Psychologically, we need a different approach to life. At the moment one of the first things people are asked when they meet socially is “What do you do?”, meaning what is your job? That needs to change so that “What do you do?”, means what are your interests? We will need to be able to be fulfilled by things like our family, maintaining our homes, working on our gardens, learning new skills and technologies for their own sake instead of employment prospects, travelling, socialising, taking part in group activities like plays, historical enactments, contests, sailing flotillas, horse riding treks, and so on. At first this new era of leisure will be forced upon us. Some of us will dread it, but some will quickly adapt and see it for the potential utopia that it can be.

    A pensioner friend recently said to me, “I never really knew what being busy was until I retired.”

  18. Florence nee Fedup

    Wayne summed it up well. With casualisation of workforce, unemployment figures mean little.

    One can be classed as employed and be in strife all the time.

  19. John Kelly

    Miriam’s call for a universal basic income, pegged to a government sponsored job of last resort, would take us in the right direction. That the NZ government is considering something similar is no surprise. NZ have shown a consistency for social progress over the last 50 years regardless of which party is in office.

  20. Jennifer Meyer-Smith

    Full employment is achievable if grassroots initiatives are supported by government funding in a variety of ways. I like Miriam’s call for a universal basic income pegged to a government sponsored job.

    I also advocate Micro Finance Grants and Micro Credit Loans for unemployed and under-employed people who have the skills, ingenuity, qualifications, experience to get their project up and running but who also need funding which is over and above their Newstart payment until they’re fully viable. I’m talking chickenfeed either. The funding needs to be sufficient to allow the person to be self-employed and then once their business is running effectively, they can start employing others.

    Government sponsored marketplaces with affordable rents and overheads is another means for social enterprise to operate when otherwise commercial costs exclude low income people.

    Brave and bold measures will reap bounteous results.

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