This morning I joined Marius Benson on ABC NewsRadio to talk about the worrying spike in unemployment in the latest ABS jobs figures. Here's the transcript:
FRIDAY, 8 AUGUST 2014
SUBJECT/S: Unemployment figures; Abbott Government’s unfair budget.
MARIUS BENSON: Andrew Leigh, on the unemployment figures: the Employment Minister Eric Abetz expressed disappointment but said you can't blame the government for this rise in unemployment because the Budget is still substantially blocked in the Senate. He blames, obviously, Labor for that.
ANDREW LEIGH, SHADOW ASSISTANT TREASURER: These figures are extraordinarily bad for Australia. A 12-year high for unemployment and a nine-year low for the share of Australians in work. That's something that ought to deeply concern the government. The fact is Australia now has worse employment outcomes than in the Global Financial Crisis. The reason that we did well in the Global Financial Crisis was the swift actions of the Labor Government: taking on modest levels of debt in order to save hundreds of thousands of jobs. Part of the reason we're doing badly now is that we have a government which is trash-talking the economy, driving down business and consumer confidence, and firing people. I mean, in my own electorate in the ACT, we're seeing the firing of public servants which is adding to these unemployment numbers.
BENSON: When you look at the numbers closely, the principal reason for the increase in the total is that the participation rate is up. So it's simply more people looking for work.
LEIGH: The economy isn't adding jobs as people are moving in to seek work. That ought to be a deep concern for the government. And governments ought to be concerned about their short-run and long-run policies. In the short run, in an environment where you've got the transition out of the mining boom, then you ought to have a government which is looking to create demand. This federal Budget has been doing anything but. It's taking away from those who have the highest propensity to spend - those who are at the bottom on the income spectrum - and it's cutting back on a range of government programs. And then in the long run, governments have to be investing in the productive capacity of the economy - in skills and infrastructure. And this again is a Budget that takes away from education, takes away from the National Broadband Network, takes away from urban rail. So it will hit the short- and the long-run jobs growth in the economy.
BENSON: What the impact of the Budget will be is still - even months after the Budget was introduced - partly academic because so much of it has been stopped in the Senate. Do you think the stalling of the Budget is boosting unemployment and hurting the economy?
LEIGH: I think the government needs to take responsibility for these numbers. I think a sober and sensible government doesn't look to blame others, they take responsibility on themselves. But with this government all we've seen from Joe Hockey is describing half of all Australians as leaners, telling single parents who are losing one-tenth of their income to go and take a chill pill, and lashing out at everyone from business to the media. I mean this is a Treasurer who doesn't seem willing to step up to the big game, to take responsibility for the worst set of job numbers in a decade and to say how he is going to set about ensuring that we get better outcomes next time.
BENSON: One point the government does make is that Labor is in no position to criticise because Labor in power promised a surplus - for example, 300 times - so they have no credibility on economic issues generally.
LEIGH: If we look at the deficit numbers when the government came to office, they took on a Pre-Election Fiscal and Economic Outlook that had deficit figures which were lower than the deficit that was brought down in Mr Hockey's first Budget. So even if Parliament was merely a rubber stamp – as I think Joe Hockey and Tony Abbott would like it to be – the deficit would be bigger, not smaller, as a result of the decisions the government has made since coming to office. That's because they've foregone revenue: giving money back to multinationals through profit shifting, giving money back to people with more than $2 million in their superannuation accounts, those sorts of decisions. So the government can't claim that it's got high levels of fiscal credibility when in fact, their own Budget is increasing the deficit.
BENSON: The Employment Minister Eric Abetz was obviously speaking on these employment figures yesterday; Eric Abetz was also speaking on a separate issue ahead of a Council of Families conference that is coming to Australia and he was asked about claims that there was evidence of a tie between, a link between, abortion and breast cancer. He said that studies maintained there was evidence of that - what are your views on Eric Abetz's words in that regard?
LEIGH: The Coalition's views on science seem to reflect their lack of a Science Minister, don't they? I mean, on climate science you've got Coalition members still denying the basic facts, and now on a key medical issue, they're claiming a link between abortion and breast cancer. This link has been entirely debunked by experts, and I thought AMA President Brian Owler put it well when he said that ‘if Eric Abetz is quoting papers from the 1950s then I suspect that's where he's living’.
BENSON: Andrew Leigh, thank you very much.
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