ROSS GREENWOOD: I did tell you at the top of the programme that the unemployment rate is at a 12-year high, 6.4 per cent. It's actually close to a 13-year high because – it was actually, I think it was in June in that year which was 19... 2003 or 2002 that the unemployment rate was higher than what it is today. Now, the question is: what should be done about it? Where does it go to? Well, Parliament, as you could imagine, with Question Time and clearly with the Prime Minister who himself has been worried and concerned about his own job in the past week or so, well there was an uproar today. Let's just pick up a little bit of Joe Hockey today in the Parliament. This is what he said about the unemployment numbers.
JOE HOCKEY: Whilst today's job figures are extraordinary and disappointing, the fact remains that since we came to government we've seen job growth at three times the speed of what it was under Labor in their last year of government.
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ROSS GREENWOOD: So, that was the Treasurer today saying that the job growth is three times the rate of that inside the time of the Labor Government. However, there are not enough jobs still being created. Let's now go to the Assistant Minister for Employment, Luke Hartsuyker, who's on the line right now. Many thanks for your time, Luke.
MINISTER HARTSUYKER: Good evening, Ross.
ROSS GREENWOOD: First up, I mean, these unemployment numbers, people will be worried about them. I mean, just at a time when you've got lower petrol prices, lower interest rates, it seems consumer confidence is picking up. The one thing you don't want to spook them about is their job, because that's the one thing that will certainly turn them off in a heart beat.
MINISTER HARTSUYKER: Well, absolutely, but there are jobs being created – over 213,000 jobs in 2014. But the point is correct that we need to create more jobs. That's why the Government is focused on growing the economy just as quickly as we can. Nothing creates jobs faster than a strong economy.
ROSS GREENWOOD: The one thing that I did hear from Shane Oliver, the chief economist of the AMP today, is that with the population growth in Australia we need to create around 250,000 jobs per year simply to keep the unemployment rate steady. The problem is if you cannot create those jobs and given there is a lot of stimulus thrown at it, but you need the business sector to kick in pretty hard and pretty fast because of the jobs being lost out of mining, it is almost impossible to create those jobs in the very short term.
MINISTER HARTSUYKER: Well, Ross, it is a challenge, and that's why we're focused on repairing the Budget. We've been cutting red tape. The carbon tax, the free trade agreements with Japan, China and South Korea and the one we're working on with India, these have the potential to create thousands of jobs in the export sector. Our free trade agreements are flowing through to better prices for our primary producers. We've got a huge investment, $50 billion, in infrastructure. These are the sorts of things that government can do, but it is the business sector that generates the jobs. Government has to get the settings right, but business creates the jobs.
ROSS GREENWOOD: The truth is also that while you've got unemployment rising, you've got a growing welfare bill that's going to come through. And if these unemployment numbers blow through your own forecast of unemployment, then quite clearly the number of unemployed will become a drag on your own Budget as your welfare payments rise and as your tax receipts drop. That's not the solution to the budget problems at the moment is it?
MINISTER HARTSUYKER: Look, absolutely not, and it's not just the financial cost of unemployment – there is a massive social cost that comes with it. That is why the Government is committed to creating more jobs. The Prime Minister has foreshadowed that jobs and families are a priority going forward for the Government, so we're committed to creating the jobs. We would dearly love the Labor Party to basically keep up with their rhetoric and come on board and support the Government's efforts to repair the Budget, support the Government's efforts to create jobs. I mean, we've got the ridiculous situation in Victoria where, regrettably, 6300 jobs, according to the ABS figures, were lost in January and they're going to spend a billion dollars not to build a road that would create 7000 jobs.
ROSS GREENWOOD: Well, it could be argued, of course, that's the car industry kicking in in a big way, that would be creating some of those job losses. The second one, as well it should be almost a no-brainer, therefore, for the Government to start building those submarines in South Australia because it was the worst performer of all of the States in terms of its unemployment.
MINISTER HARTSUYKER: Well, the Government is committed to delivering the very best submarines for our defence force to build this nation. But in doing so, no matter where those submarines are built, there will be many jobs for Australians [indistinct]...
ROSS GREENWOOD: [Over talks] But there will be many more jobs for Australians if they are built here. You would acknowledge that there will be many more jobs for Australians if they are built here in Australia.
MINISTER HARTSUYKER: Well, there's a competitive evaluation taking place, Ross. But whichever way the cards fall, there will be many jobs for Australians in relation to those submarines. But as a defence procurement, our armed services personnel have to have the very best equipment, the very best product to defend this nation. We've got a huge sea border, we need those submarines to be absolutely the best and that competitive evaluation will do that, but there will be jobs created.
ROSS GREENWOOD: All right now, a lot, as you know, was made of the Prime Minister, the Prime Minister had been through a torrid week in terms of the leadership spill. He came into the Parliament today and, I mean, this is a Prime Minister who cannot afford to make too many mistakes either from his own party's point of view or, indeed, the public's point of view. Let's just have a little listen to him really starting to fire up, but I think perhaps making a slip even that he would admit.
TONY ABBOTT: Under members opposite, defence jobs in this country declined by 10 per cent. There was a holocaust of jobs in defence industries under members opposite. That's what there was, Madam Speaker. Job, jobs, jobs. I'm sorry if I, I'm sorry, and I withdraw, Madam Speaker. There was – there was – there was a decimation. There was a decimation...
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ROSS GREENWOOD: The use of that word was not, shall I say, hmm, it was not quite the right word to use under the circumstances, I would have thought, Luke Hartsuyker.
MINISTER HARTSUYKER: Well, look, the Prime Minister did withdraw that remark, but he did highlight the point that there was a loss of defence jobs under Labor. We are focused on creating jobs, creating as many jobs in the defence sector as we can and creating as many jobs in the wider economy as we can. We are working to build a strong economy to do that. We have a range of policies in place. We have a new employment services system that will be coming into being on 1 July. That will deliver better services to job seekers and employers. We're doing a range of things. The very best thing we can do is to build a stronger economy.
ROSS GREENWOOD: It's going to be interesting to watch it, anyway. We'll speak very shortly with the president of the Australian Council of Trade Unions, Ged Kearney, and we'll get a slightly different view of all of that. But, Luke Hartsuyker, we appreciate your time here on the programme.
MINISTER HARTSUYKER: Thanks, Ross.