Unemployment

Senator O'Neill just said that it is time to put some facts on the table, and I certainly concur with that statement. Sometimes if you are listening to these speeches from Labor senators you notice that numbers are not their strong suit.

In this instance they seem to be expressing some kind of shock or horror that the number of people in Australia grows over time. Our population grows and therefore, of course, sometimes the number of unemployed persons grows or the number of employed persons also grows over time. Indeed, during the Rudd-Gillard government, those six years, the number of unemployed grew by 325,000. There were 325,000 more people unemployed at the end of the Rudd-Gillard government than there were at the beginning. Partly that was because of an increase in the unemployment rate during that period, but it was also due to an increase in the general population that we had. I should also say that the population has continued to grow under this government. So the number of unemployed persons has grown as well.

What was very concerning under the Rudd-Gillard government, though, was not just the growth in the unemployment rate or indeed the growth in the total number of people unemployed but also the decline in the participation rate, which is very important. It is a statistic not often referred to, but what it means is the percentage of people who could work who are looking for work. At the start of the Rudd-Gillard government the participation rate was 65.4 per cent and over the period of that government it fell to 64.7 per cent. That does not sound like a big decline but, over history, it is actually quite a large decline. That, of course, happened because people were disaffected—they did not think they could possibly find a job, so they were not looking for a job and they left the labour force. Therefore they were lost to our economy and our community, at least in terms of their economic contribution.

Since the Abbott government came to power the participation rate, which was at 64 per cent, has now grown to 65.1 per cent. It has grown by almost half of what the fall had been during the Rudd-Gillard government. That normally indicates a vote of confidence—if more people are looking for work it is generally a vote of confidence that potentially there is work out there. So there are some green shoots here in our economy—people are at least not becoming disaffected in their employment search and they want to look for work. More people are out there looking for a job now, which is a good thing.

The last employment survey, which was released a couple of weeks ago, for July, which Labor is so focused on, showed that 38,500 jobs were created in July. That is definitely an above-average level of jobs growth, and above market expectations at the time. But the participation rate increased at the same time, which is why the unemployment rate increased. If the participation rate had not increased and we got those 38,500 new jobs, unemployment would be 5.9 per cent today, not 6.3 per cent. The reason unemployment has increased is that more people are looking for work and more jobs are being created, which is a good thing.

It was not just in July that more jobs have been created under this government; I think Senator Back mentioned that 163,000 jobs have been created this year alone, which equates to around 23,000 jobs per month. Last year 200,000 jobs were created, which equates to around 16,200 per month. We are building on it—things are getting better. Last year we had 16,200 jobs per month created; so far this year we have had 23,000 jobs. That is a good news story. We are heading in the right direction. We do not have a magic wand; we cannot create jobs overnight. But we can create the economic environment where there is more confidence and in which more people want to start a business and employ people. That is exactly what has been happening. When you compare last year's jobs growth of 16,000-odd per month and this year's growth of more than 20,000 jobs a month created with that of the last year of the Labor government, 2013, you will see that just 3,600 jobs per month were created. We have gone from 2013 with 3,600 jobs per month being created to 2014 with 16,000 jobs per month being created to this year with, so far, 23,000 jobs per month being created. It is a good news story. Things are heading in the right direction and that is the way we hope it will be.

That is not to say that there are not challenges in our economy. That is not to say that the last few years have not been difficult for some parts of Australia. Rockhampton, where I am based, is in a large area of coalmining, and it has been very tough in the last couple of years, with declining commodity prices and increased unemployment. In our area we need to attract new jobs and new investment. At the moment we have two great threats to those things happening. Two things will stop jobs from being created in Central Queensland: one is tax, the other is regulation and red tape. Those two things, tax and regulation, are the biggest threats to jobs in Central Queensland today. On the regulation front, last week we saw a snake and a lizard stop a $16 billion coalmine project in Central Queensland. There was not anything particular about the snake or the lizard that caused this project to be stopped; it was the fact that certain bureaucratic processes had not been complied with, so a judge put that decision aside.

That $16 billion project was first put forward for approval to the Department of the Environment in November 2010 and the investor is still waiting for a yes or a no. It has now been 1,726 days since that investor asked whether or not he could get approval from the federal government to build a coalmine—1,726 days. What country takes more than 1,700 days to say yes or no to a $16 billion project that would potentially create 10,000 jobs? We are talking here about jobs and a 10,000-job project is staring us in the face right now and we want to argue about bureaucracy and whether or not the minister has looked at every sentence in a preservation order. It is madness.

The other big threat to jobs is tax. The Labor Party and the Greens want to bring back the carbon tax. They loved the carbon tax so much the first time that they want to bring back a sequel that is bigger and better and with a bigger budget than the first one. And because it is bigger, it is going to have a bigger impact on our economy. The first carbon tax was going to cost thousands of jobs in Central Queensland; this one would potentially cost tens of thousands of jobs. We should oppose it and make sure that does not happen.

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