Monday, 22 February 2021
Senior members of this government like to come into this place and claim that jobs are being created and then unfurl the mission-accomplished banner behind themselves, as though the job were done, but that kind of triumphalism, I argue, is missing some fundamental characteristics of the labour market. I'm going to look at two of them today. The first of them is population growth. If we look at the population of the labour market between March 2020 and December 2020, we see the civilian population aged 15 and over has increased by 76,000 people, and this needs to be factored into the government's analysis of the labour market. It's not enough to simply say that jobs are being created; the government need to set a benchmark for themselves which reflects the fact that the labour market is growing. To even get to where we were pre COVID is going to require far more jobs growth than they are admitting. For example, given the population growth, in order to hold the employment rate at 62.4 per cent would have required an additional 47,420 people to have been employed. Moreover, in order to hold monthly hours per capita constant, given population growth, would have required an extra 6½ million hours worked. So, what we see is that, in order to go back to where we were pre COVID, and that shouldn't be our ambition, when factoring in population growth the government need to achieve a full one-third of a percentage point growth more in the labour force than they are currently reflecting in their numbers.
The second thing I want to talk about is the age structure of our labour force and the fact that it's the youngest who are being hardest hit by this recession and it's the youngest who are actually the slowest to come out of it. If we look at employment growth between March 2020 and December 2020, even adjusting for changes in age structure, for those aged 15 to 24 we see a minus 2.9 per cent change in employment, and for those aged 25 to 64 we see a minus 0.7 per cent change—a marked difference. There is almost four times the drop in employment growth for those in our society who are just at the start of their working lives and most vulnerable. And, for those over the age of 65, we've seen growth in hours of employment, often because people are so terrified of retiring and have to go into any jobs they can. When we look at electorates like mine, Fraser, in the outer western suburbs of Melbourne—and this is reflected so often in the outer suburbs of our cities around Australia—we see the rate of those not in education, employment or training far higher, on average, than around the rest of Australia, and this was even before COVID. What we see is a labour market that is creating some jobs, but this government is setting itself benchmarks far too low. It needs to achieve far more in the labour market to reflect population growth and reflect the needs of our young people. (Time expired)