Topics: Labour force data.


Linda Mottram:  Well, the Finance Minister, Simon Birmingham, joined me earlier, I asked him about the mixed picture in the employment data, which, despite the floor falling unemployment rate, also shows fewer people looking for work.


Simon Birmingham: Well it is important to look at the trends in relation to those things. The participation rate had been reaching record levels. What’s really encouraging is the unemployment rate has shown not just a dip in this month, but in fact it’s the seventh consecutive monthly drop and it’s more than 900,000 jobs that we’ve got back in the Australian economy since the peak in unemployment induced by the COVID recession last year. And what we’re seeing here is certainly a recovery in Australia that is the envy of much of the rest of the world. And equally, a recovery post JobKeeper in this first month of post JobKeeper data. And that is a far cry from what the doomsayers, including the federal opposition Labor Party, had said prior to JobKeeper coming to an end.


Linda Mottram: In this month. It was women losing jobs and hours. Men fared better, but probably a lot of female dominated positions in tourism and hospitality, one imagines. How can you get women back into work and keep them there?


Simon Birmingham: On the whole, if we look at the month by month employment stats, since that peak of unemployment, we’ve seen really strong recovery in relation to women’s jobs across the Australian economy. Yes, this month is a little bit more mixed as a one off. But we do see some very encouraging data there with the youth unemployment rate at its lowest level since 2009, with the focus in growth in this month being in full time jobs, some nearly 34,000 additional full time jobs. And of course, in relation to women’s workforce participation, this recent budget, two key things that we did. One was the targeted growth in relation to support for childcare, all about making sure that where childcare may be an impediment to workforce participation because of a family’s income and because they’ve got more than one kid in childcare, we’re going to deliver that additional support and the other being in skilling agenda, creating particularly more places in some of the industries that are dominated by women in the workforce, such as those care sectors where we’ve got huge additional demand in aged care and in disability care and making sure that we provide the skilling and the training opportunities in those sectors.


Linda Mottram: You mentioned youth unemployment. It’s a roughly 10 per cent. It’s improved a bit, but there are these sectors that are crying out for workers. Is there a natural fit there? Should business be doing more to bring those young Australians who are wanting to work into those sectors like hospitality and tourism?


Simon Birmingham: So, as you said, youth unemployment is at its lowest level since 2009 and compared with previous recessions and economic downturns, that’s a remarkable achievement where youth unemployment historically has stuck much higher for much longer following a recession. Yes, I have heard from many businesses across the country that they have skilled vacancies or job shortages, not always in highly skilled areas as well. And so we need to make sure that all Australians, especially those who might be younger, have fewer ties and be more mobile, understand the payments that are available to support relocation and the opportunities that exist in tourism industries, in agricultural industries, in mining industry, in a range of sectors that say they are looking for employees and have jobs that are available.


Linda Mottram: The underemployment issue Minister, people with less work than they want or indeed need to survive. That’s improved slightly, too. But it’s still a nagging problem, isn’t it? Why don’t we set a target for unemployment to focus on getting people the work they really need?


Simon Birmingham: I think what we can see in these figures is that as unemployment goes down, so too are we making inroads in youth unemployment and in underemployment. The underemployment rate in these month’s figures at its lowest rate in over seven years. Across each of these metrics, these improvements and those improvements come from gains right across the economy. And clearly, if we can secure, as the budget forecasts indicate, an unemployment rate below five per cent, the creation of a further 250,000 jobs over the next couple of years, that is also going to translate into improvements in youth employment outcomes and improvements in relation to underemployment, too.


Linda Mottram: Minister, thanks very much for your time today.


Simon Birmingham: Thank you, Linda. My pleasure.


Linda Mottram: Finance Minister Simon Birmingham.