2CC DRIVE WITH LEON DELANEY
FRIDAY, 20 OCTOBER 2023
SUBJECTS: ACT unemployment rate; ACCC monitoring prices of airline flights; Progress on multinational tax laws; Release of Australian Charities and Not-For-Profits Commission’s Annual Report.
LEON DELANEY (HOST): The unemployment rate in the ACT has gone up against the national trend, despite the Canberra job market still apparently going strong with the highest participation rate in the country. But the unemployment rate is up from 3.2 to 3.9 per cent. Assistant Minister for Competition, Charities and Treasury, and Assistant Minister for Employment, not to mention, our local member for Fenner, Andrew Leigh joins us now. Good afternoon.
ASSISTANT MINISTER FOR EMPLOYMENT, CHARITIES, COMPETITION AND TREASURY ANDREW LEIGH: ANDREW LEIGH: Good afternoon, Leon. Great to be with you.
DELANEY: What should we read into these unemployment figures in the ACT?
LEIGH: Well, the Canberra numbers do bounce around a little bit more than in other places where the sample size is higher. So, I think the read out of this is we've still got an unemployment rate with a three in front of it, which is, by any historical measure, pretty remarkable. What happens when you have low unemployment is not just lots of people have jobs, but also it puts more upward pressure on pay, it ensures that people are able to get a look in in the labour market, who mightn't be able to get a look in if the unemployment rate was higher. People with disabilities, people from non-English speaking backgrounds, neurodiverse job applicants, all have a better shot of finding work when the unemployment rate is low, like it is right now.
DELANEY: Okay. The rate here in the ACT is now higher than that in NSW or in Victoria. Nationally, however, although the rate of unemployment has fallen, apparently, reading into the detail, full time employment has actually gone backwards. Why do you think that is?
LEIGH: Well, overall, we've still got a remarkably strong employment market. We had a very strong month last month, and so there's to be expected that you get a little bit of moderation off that. But overall, in any historical context, this is pretty extraordinary. There's only been 19 months since this monthly unemployment series began in 1978 where the unemployment rate has been below 4 per cent, and 16 out of those 19 months have occurred under the Albanese government. We're very proud to have been delivering this strong employment outcome. And indeed, the half a million jobs that we've produced so far in our first term exceeds the job tally of any other government in Australian history in their entire first term. We're only halfway through.
DELANEY: Okay. All right. There's always spin and then there's more spin, isn't there?
LEIGH: These are jobs. These are real jobs.
DELANEY: Yeah, obviously but, you know, statistics, as you know, you can cherry pick the most appealing parts and focus on those, can't you?
ANDREW LEIGH: I would not have imagined, Leon, if you told me a decade ago we'd have unemployment below 4 per cent. I actually just didn't think it was achievable. So, to have it sustained in Australia for any period of time is a really good news story for the country. I think all of us should take credit in that.
DELANEY: Well, as you'd probably be aware, a lot of economics experts are now discussing what should be the target for the Reserve Bank of Australia in terms of unemployment. At the moment, there is no specific target, just, you know, keeping it as low as possible, consistent with low inflation. But that's a bit vague, isn't it? A lot of experts have suggested there needs to be a numerical target.
LEIGH: The non-accelerating inflation rate of unemployment, the NAIRU, is basically the unemployment rate that's compatible with stable inflation. That's come down a little recently, largely because we're doing a better job as an economy of matching people's skills to the jobs that are out there. That's all about ensuring that people have the training that makes them employable. When you get a higher NAIRU, a higher non-accelerating inflation rate of unemployment, is where you've got significant mismatch. A whole bunch of people whose skills just aren't wanted in the labour market. We've got less of that now. That's a credit to our training system, but we can do a lot better with the training system. That's why we're putting in place these half a million fee-free TAFE places, tens of thousands of additional university spots and doing reviews of the university and TAFE sector to make sure they're fit for purpose.
DELANEY: It's been a busy week in the Parliament this week, and one of the things that happened is that the government decided to reinstate the ACCC monitoring of airline flights and pricing with a little bit of pressure from independent Senator David Pocock. Obviously, this monitoring is a good idea, isn't it? Why was it not going to be reinstated initially?
LEIGH: Well, it was put in place for a fixed period of time. We thought carefully about whether or not it was appropriate to extend it. In the circumstances, with a lot of Australians feeling the price pressures of airlines, we've decided that's appropriate to have in place. We're also, through the Aviation White Paper process, looking at ways we can bring more competition into the system. I think it's good that we've got Jetstar and Fiji Airlines and others flying into Canberra, but I would like to see more competition in the system. I'm a big fan of competition, as you well know, Leon, from our many chats on the topic. I think it's a way of putting downward pressure on prices. We'll get more of that as we bring in some of the international carriers. We've got Turkish and Vietnam Airlines making applications for more landing slots in Australia. I'd love it if Qatar Airlines, which has been in the news lately, would start flying to Canberra like they were pre-pandemic.
DELANEY: You know, of course, that the decision by the government to reinstate this monitoring was the price the government paid in order to secure David Pocock's vote to prevent the recall of that Senate committee to examine evidence from Alan Joyce, the former CEO of Qantas, who's still out of the country at the moment. Why shouldn't Alan Joyce be called before the committee when he does eventually decide to come back to Australia?
LEIGH: I'd be very happy if he was called in front of the committee and it's really a matter for the Senate as to how they manage their business there. What we've got now is a constructive outcome. We've got the competition watchdog on the job, looking at airline prices. I think that beats an ongoing Senate committee any day.
DELANEY: Okay. Also this week, the Federal Government has opened consultations on the exposure draft for amendments to the Treasury Laws Amendment, making multinationals pay their fair share. This has been a long term campaign to get more tax out of multinational companies. How close are we to getting that?
LEIGH: Well, we've moved a number of measures in the Parliament in order to provide more transparency and close off some of the loopholes. One of which relates to debt deductions. For too long, some of these multinational firms have been deducting debt, cutting down their tax bill, which means that they don't contribute to the public services, but also puts Australian firms at a disadvantage in competing against multinationals. So, these measures are going to be good for the economy, good for competition, good for Australians.
DELANEY: Okay. And the Australian Charities and Not-for-Profits Commission has delivered its annual report. Is it good news?
LEIGH: It's great. The charities commission is going from strength to strength under the leadership of Sue Woodward, a woman who's spent her career working constructively with the charity sector. They've now got a new board in place which is reflective of the sector, contains representatives from non-English speaking backgrounds and Indigenous backgrounds, and most importantly, people who have a rich and diverse history in the charity sector. So, I'm really excited to be working with them. There’s a lot of work to do to rebuild community after a generation of declining joining, participating, volunteering and giving, but I reckon we can do it.
DELANEY: Well, obviously, we've spoken before about the importance of holding charitable organisations to account, not only for their own activities, but on occasions where they might be involved with third parties that are perhaps extracting a little more profit than they should from what are, after all, charitable donations. That's still a problem, isn't it?
LEIGH: We need to fix fundraising. We're working with the states and territories in order to harmonise charitable fundraising laws. And part of that is about making sure that fundraisers don't do the wrong thing. Charities are responsible for their fundraisers. They can't just outsource that responsibility. And part of that is ensuring that we don't have the sort of scandals that other countries have seen, that then erode confidence in the charity sector more broadly.
DELANEY: And finally today, I know that you're a mad keen fitness nut and apparently you're participating in something called Fit for Office, which is a programme involving a number of political figures, not only you, but also apparently, Angus Taylor is your closest competitor in this competition that's not really a competition. What's it all about?
LEIGH: Well, we all run for office and so we can sit in Parliament. This AusActive campaign is about ensuring that we do more running and less sitting. As the saying goes, just move. Whatever activity you're doing, you can get out there and move around, whether it's walking, running, cycling, swimming. I'm fortunate that the challenges come at a time where I'm training for an Ironman triathlon, 3.8km swim, 180km cycle, 42km run. So training for that has allowed me to get my steps up and participate in the challenge. Fit for Office ends Sunday night. I'm in pole position at the moment, but as you know, Leon, anything can happen in the final stages of the race.
DELANEY: Well, that's absolutely true and, of course, Angus Taylor, I'm sure, will be a very keen competitor.
LEIGH: He is indeed, yes. He did Pollie Pedal, so he was cycling full time through Western Australia. I had a day job, so I've got him at bay right now, but I'm aware that I've got a keen competitor there.
And frankly, it's just fun to do these bipartisan exercises. My colleague Fiona Phillips is heavily involved in it as well, Melissa McIntosh, David Pocock and others. So, it's just great to have so many people gathered together in the cause of supporting activity.
DELANEY: Yeah, absolutely. It's all in a good cause, helping to promote the benefits of being physically active. You don't have to run a marathon, but you know, just get out and about and enjoy the fresh air and the sunshine. It's better than doing nothing, isn't it?
LEIGH: Absolutely. I feel as though the weight of Canberra is on my shoulders in this competition, and there’s no better city to be physically active.
DELANEY: All right, then. You can carry the flag for the ACT. Thanks very much for chatting today.
LEIGH: Thanks so much, Leon.