Thursday, April 12, 2007

Not a word about WorkChoices in the last election, but lots about it the coming one. John Howard now sees it as an asset

The Prime Minister has declared his new unfair dismissal laws responsible for a new 31-year low in unemployment, placing them at the centre of his reelection campaign.

Australia’s unemployment rate slid further to 4.51 per cent in March, eclipsing the previous 31-year low of 4.54 per cent recorded in January.

An extra 31,700 Australians found full-time work in March, 10,500 of them moving from unemployment; 21,200 upgrading from part-time jobs.

More than a quarter of a million new jobs have been created since the introduction of WorkChoices 12 months ago – a record for any year – all but a few thousand full-time.

Mr Howard said yesterday that “whilst it would have been too early three months, six months, even nine months after the introduction of WorkChoices to make any definitive claims about its impact, and most particularly the abolition of the unfair dismissal laws on unemployment, I do believe, after a year in which 276,000 new jobs have been created it is reasonable to assert that one of the contributions made to this spectacular growth in employment has been the removal of the unfair dismissal provisions under WorkChoices”...

“It was always my opinion that the unfair dismissal laws frightened small business out of taking on more staff, and now that those unfair dismissal laws have been removed, people are being taken on and I do think the labour market is being cleared in a way that wouldn’t have happened without the WorkChoices changes. I think the climate of fear that existed previously in relation to not being able to let somebody go who wasn’t working out, that has been removed,” the Prime Minister said.

Asked whether the freedom to let staff go would make job cuts worse when the economy turned down Mr Howard replied that there would be no downturn if he was reelected.
“I invite the people of Australia to retain a government that can stop the economy turning down. With careful economic management by experienced people there is no reason why we should contemplate a downturn. I don’t believe in recessions you have to have, I believe in continued economic prosperity you are entitled to have.” He said.

The Prime Minister’s remarks suggest that rather than responding to a Labor election campaign built around the loss of working conditions flowing from WorkChoices Mr Howard will campaign aggressively on what he sees as the employment dividend flowing from WorkChoices.

“The contribution it has made in a human way to giving people jobs is its most conspicuous success. And in the end, giving people a job is the greatest human dividend of all,” he said.

Australia’s employment boom is centred around the resource rich states of Western Australia and Queensland suggesting that other factors in addition to WorkChoices may be responsible. The unemployment rate in Western Australia dropped to a new long-term low of just 2.7 per cent. In the ACT the rate is 3.2 per cent with only 6,200 territorians unemployed.

The Australian dollar hit a new 17 year high of US82.57 cents after release of the employment news on the back of increased speculation that another interest rate rise was imminent. Australia’s unemployment rate is now lower than it was at the time of the November interest rate hike.

An upbeat assessment of world economic growth from the International Monetary Fund released early Thursday is thought likely to lessen any anxieties the Reserve Bank might have about the risks of another hike.

The next opportunity will be after the Reserve Bank Board’s meeting on Tuesday May 1, one week ahead of the federal budget.