SUBJECTS: March labour force figures - unemployment rate; royal banking commission inquiry
ROSS GREENWOOD: Let's now go to Australia's unemployment rate. Now, today you've actually seen again a significant improvement in where the unemployment rate is moving to. But on top of this also a situation where quite clearly there have been a number of jobs, 400,000, last year and this is now ongoing. Now bear in mind at the moment you've still got a situation where the unemployment rate over the past year is really hung around this area around five and a half, 5.4 per cent during that period of time and so it really is an important thing to consider that with the unemployment rate now 5.5 per cent, 12.48 million Australians in work right now. So that's a big increase on where it was this time last year, this time two years ago, this time three years ago. Now, if you have more people in work - as we've said often - you have fewer people collecting the dole and you have more people paying tax and that is good for government.
So let's get our Employment Relations Minister Michaelia Cash on the line right now. Many thanks for your time, Michaelia.
MINISTER CASH: Fantastic to be with you Ross, and hello to your listeners.
ROSS GREENWOOD: Alright, so let’s go back to Tony Abbott. When he was prime minister he made a pledge that Australia could produce a million jobs pretty much over a five-year period. How did he go?
MINISTER CASH: Well at this stage the five-year period is actually up in September of 2018 so we're only at four and a half years and to date the economy has created or total employment has actually increased by 996,800 or 8.7 per cent and we continue to create jobs as you know with almost 5000 being created in March 2018. That’s four and a half years in and 996,800 have been created.
ROSS GREENWOOD: Okay, the cynics out there will simply say; alright hang on Michaelia but that's because the population has risen and if we've got more people we need more jobs, all that type of thing. Is it as simple as that? Because you can see - and this is what I observe today from these numbers - is that the participation rate, this is the level of people who are in the labour market right now is the highest it's been since records started in 1978 according to the chief economist of the ABS Bruce Hopkins today.
MINISTER CASH: And that is exactly right and when you have a participation rate at the highest rate what it says is people are in work but more than that, they have confidence and those who are not in work are putting their hands up and saying; I am ready, willing and able. When people have confidence, when businesses have confidence as you know and they have the right economic conditions they get out there and they create jobs which is what we are seeing.
ROSS GREENWOOD: Okay, can I put the other spin on it? When families are under pressure financially from rising electricity prices, private health insurance premiums and very low wages growth plus also big mortgages they may have taken on in our major cities, they have an incentive to go out to work. When you have work for the dole schemes, when you have situations where you limit the amount of dole that people can get after a period of time if they're not actively looking, that again would encourage people to go into the workforce.
MINISTER CASH: Look, and at the end of the day, Ross, you and I both know, when you talk to Australians they actually want to work. They understand the benefits of work. They understand the choice that is given by being in work [indistinct] and that’s why the Government is (a) focused on getting the economic policies in place so that businesses out there can create jobs. But also at the other end, for those people who aren’t yet into work, we have employment programs whether you’re a young person, whether you’re mature age, whether you are a parent that actively looked to work with you to get you off welfare and into work.
So if we look at the job creating side with the business and the employers, but at the same time those who are not in work we will work with you to ensure you do have the skills and the opportunity to get into work.
ROSS GREENWOOD: Okay. Then the other aspect of this is the budget as I spoke to you about. Now, we’ve had Scott Morrison the Treasurer on the program in the past couple of nights and of course it’s quite clear that there is significant amounts of money flowing into the coffers of the revenues of government right now; $8 billion during just the month of February alone. The budget is improving far more quickly than what many people see and anticipate and also even perhaps the IMF picks up in its report overnight. It does give greater scope for, well, shall I say income tax cuts. It gives greater scope for improvement of the bottom line of the budget as well.
MINISTER CASH: Yeah and that is exactly right. And you know I think the stark difference between the Shorten-led Labor Party and the Turnbull-led Government is exactly that. We understand that giving tax cuts for businesses, we have pursued tax cuts for small and medium, we will continue to pursue tax cuts for larger businesses. We understand that tax cuts get reinvested by businesses in through their businesses, their businesses become productive and they create more jobs. And you are right, we also want to see the personal income tax that people pay lowered. But you can only do that again when you get the economic settings right. Those settings will never be right under a Labor government. You can see that, you can see with what Bill Shorten is saying. He’s declared war on business. He’s declared war in particular on people who he thinks earn a lot of income. The Coalition is committed to doing what we can to give tax relief because we understand that’s how you stimulate an economy.
ROSS GREENWOOD: Okay. A quick one for you and that is when do wage rises start coming? Because as we know wages growth has been close to all-time record lows, but it's always been said that if there are more jobs being created in the economy eventually wages rise will come. Do you think we're getting close to that point?
MINISTER CASH: I think we are. So look, while the [indistinct] jobs growth should contribute to an increase in household disposable income for Australian workers and that then obviously begins to feed through to stronger wages growth. With the participation rate as you know, Ross, being where it is at an all-time high, that certainly creates competition in the labour market. That also constitutes potentially to stronger wages growth. We certainly know we can’t rest on our laurels and more needs to be done. But again, the right economic condition ultimately contributes a higher wages growth and that’s what we’re seeing.
ROSS GREENWOOD: Okay, I want to go to royal commissions with you now, and I know the banking royal commission is creating enormous headlines right now. Even last night on the program the Treasurer told us he believed that some of the allegations that he has heard in the Royal Commission into Banking Misconduct could potentially lead to jail sentences. But, I want to go to another royal commission that is the Heydon Royal Commission into union misconduct and corruption. From that particular royal commission can you remind me how many people went to jail?
MINISTER CASH: Well, it’s very difficult to prove a criminal charge as you know. Look, to be honest there haven’t been very many but that was…
ROSS GREENWOOD: The answer would be none would it not?
MINISTER CASH: Well, it would be but that wasn’t the reason for the royal commission because many people have had findings made against them which have resulted in fines. But on top of that what we saw is a recommendation for changes in legislation to actually change the system, Ross. We reintroduced the Australian Building and Construction Commission to ensure law and order reports [indistinct] sector for the economic benefits of Australia. We put in place the Registered Organisations Commission because all registered organisations whether you’re a union organisation or whether you’re an employer organisation you should actually be transparent. We stopped corrupt payments between employers and unions. We even put in place as you know very strong protections for vulnerable workers. In particular, those employers out there, there's not many of them but those who underpay workers. So, it was not just about whether or not an individual criminal charge was brought, it was more about looking at the system across the board itself and looking at how you could change that and we’ve brought in numerous pieces of legislation that will now contribute to a better workplace for employees, better relationships between employers and unions and ultimately economic benefit of all Australians.
ROSS GREENWOOD: And I just muse here to myself, I wonder four years after the banking royal commission is completed whether I’ll have exactly the same conversation about the number of people who were charged and/or went to jail as a result of this royal commission as well.
MINISTER CASH: Again, it’s not just about that. It’s about the broader system and what you need to do to ensure the type of behaviour that we saw in the Trade Union Royal Commission and potentially what we’re seeing in the Banking Royal Commission does not occur again and that’s when the Government needs to step in and actually change quite literally the rules.
ROSS GREENWOOD: There you go, the Minister for Jobs and Innovation. Senator Michaelia Cash, we appreciate your time.
MINISTER CASH: Fabulous to be with you and thanks to your listeners.