Subject/s: ABS Labour Force figures for July
JIM WILSON: There have been plenty of grim warnings about the impact on the economy of the coronavirus. Today, the latest unemployment figures have been released. The jobless rate has risen from 7.4 to 7.5 per cent, which has been described as the highest level this century. The Australian Bureau of Statistics says, for the first time, there are more than 1 million people out of work, available to work and actively looking to work. But the figures also show almost 115,000 jobs were created in July. Michaelia Cash is the Minister for Employment, Skills, Small and Family Business and she's on the line this afternoon. Minister, thank you for your time.
MINISTER CASH: It is great to be with you.
JIM WILSON: What do you make of the new figures?
MINISTER CASH: The figures released today, as you said, they really do demonstrate the underlying strength of the Australian labour market. What they demonstrate, more than anything, is that the easing of COVID-19 restrictions has resulted in some improvement in the labour market. Of course that is both from last month, when we saw in excess of 200,000 jobs created, and then of course this month, where we've now seen in excess of 114,000 jobs created. So, the easing of restrictions really does play a part in job creation.
JIM WILSON: I read one report, Minister, that said there was overwhelmingly good news in the ABS figures, with the rise in unemployment being driven by more people looking for work. Would you agree with that?
MINISTER CASH: So, that's an increase in the participation rate. The increase in the participation rate, it was actually a very good increase of 0.6 per cent. And what that says is people are actively looking for work. They have confidence and they want a job. Therefore, you see an uptick in the unemployment rate. Jim, as the Prime Minister has consistently said, that's the measured rate, 7.5 per cent of unemployment. The effective rate is unfortunately higher. It is pleasing that it fell from 11.2 per cent in June to 9.9 per cent. As you and I both know, every job lost as a result of COVID-19 is absolutely devastating, and that is why we are so concerned with getting the fundamentals right to continue with the job creation we're seeing.
JIM WILSON: Well, New South Wales, for example, is at 7.2 per cent unemployment. I mean, the forecasts are pretty alarming, aren’t they, especially as far as the jobless rate is concerned, people talking about double digit unemployment. What are you being told?
MINISTER CASH: Certainly, without JobKeeper, you're right. Treasury forecast that the jobless rate would be much higher, but the introduction of JobKeeper has meant that around 3.5 million Australians and I think now in excess of 980,000 businesses have been able to keep that really important connection between employer and employee. You cannot underestimate, Jim, the importance of that connection, from a psychological perspective. When that business is able to reopen its doors, it picks up the phone to its employees and says: guess what? Come back to work, and they are ready and able to go.
JIM WILSON: Do you think the unemployment rate though, Minister, will reach 10 or 11 per cent by December?
MINISTER CASH: The effective unemployment rate, we've seen this month has gone down to 9.9 per cent. The figures do not take into account Stage 4 restrictions in Victoria – an absolutely devastating impact on the labour market in Victoria. That was not reflected. As you know, in July’s figures Victoria went from 7.5 per cent down to 6.8 per cent, they actually saw employment increase by almost 23,000. It is going to be, Jim, a very different story when the figures are released for August.
JIM WILSON: Well, especially with what's happening in Victoria, Minister. They're not counted into these figures today. You'd have to think, surely, that come December, when you do factoring in the lockdown and the fact that industry's been hit so hard in Melbourne and Victoria, that that number of 10 or 11 per cent for the unemployment rate will be well and truly tangible come December.
MINISTER CASH: What we're focused on every day is obviously getting as many Australians back into work. I think the correlation that you can now see is when you have restrictions put in place, clearly the economy sheds jobs. Pleasingly, when you actually have the easing of those restrictions, as we've seen in the June figures, in excess of the 200,000 jobs returning to the economy. The easing of the restrictions in terms of when these figures were taken, almost 115,000 jobs returning to the economy. So, the key for everybody is the virus is here, Jim. You and I know that. We must live in a COVID safe economy. We've got to respect the protocols that are put in place, so that across Australia, we can see the further easing of restrictions. So that ultimately more businesses can reopen and more Australians, in particular in Victoria, can get back to work.
JIM WILSON: But we’re in for more pain, aren’t we, Minister? Let's cut to the chase. And the recovery process could take years.
MINISTER CASH: Oh look, I think the Prime Minister's been very, very upfront about that. I mean, it is a global pandemic and it has serious global consequences. But again though, if you look at the policies that the Morrison Government have put in place, and in particular, the JobKeeper measure, which has been widely recognised as a success, assisting around 3.5 million Australians. You really cannot underestimate what it's done for those people to give them that so important connection with their employment. We've extended that out, as you know. We've extended it out for another six months because we're recognise people need ongoing support. We've also though announced the $1 billion JobTrainer fund because we also know there are people who now need to up skill or reskill and we’re going to create an additional in excess of 340,000 new training places. We recognise it's a long road to go. There needs to be, you know, that recognition of the resilience of the Australian economy in the last two months, with jobs returning. I never underestimate how good our small and family businesses are across Australia, and that resilience, you are really now seeing it.
JIM WILSON: Minister, thank you for your time this afternoon.
MINISTER CASH: Great to be with you.
JIM WILSON: That’s Senator Michaelia Cash, the Minister for Employment, Skills, Small and Family Business.