Transcript: Interview with Bruce Guthrie, ABC 774, 20/1/12

20 January 2012

Subject: jobs figures

BRUCE GUTHRIE:    It’s thirteen minutes to nine.  I’d love to hear from you on 1300 222 774.  Perhaps you're a Phillip Island resident.  Perhaps you have a view on this impending court action.

And I’d also like to hear from you on our next story which is yesterday’s job figures which showed essentially that there is no jobs growth, in fact it’s going backwards.

But if you’ve got a job, you’re probably working longer hours than ever.  So it’s almost like a two speed jobs market.  You’re either unemployed or you’re overworked.  Bill Shorten is the Acting Treasurer and he joins me on the line.

Good morning Mr Shorten.  Well he doesn’t join me on the line actually.  Mr Shorten has gone.  We’re not quite sure what’s happened there.

We will go to some text messages.  Louise says, where was Greg Hunt when the environment needed defending against the desalt plant, much more detrimental and far reaching effects for all Victorians.  Just listening to the lawyer representing the speculator, this is all about money says Mick of Ballarat.

If the vendor had known of the re-zoning, would the vendor have sold?  Isn’t the decision by the Minister’s whim an abuse of power in the first place?  Isn’t the plaintiff just a property speculator?  I asked the lawyer about that.  He refused to comment.  I think Mr Shorten is on the line now.

Good morning Bill.

BILL SHORTEN:  Good morning Bruce.

BRUCE GUTHRIE:  How are you?  These figures yesterday were sort of disappointing on a lot of levels.  Full time employment rose by twenty-four-thousand-five-hundred to eight million in December.  Part time employment was down.  There were tough times in seasonal industries such as retail and hospitality.  Total employment fell.  How are you going to fix all this?

BILL SHORTEN: Well let’s not spin the numbers.  It is clear that jobs growth is slowing in Australia.  By the same token, let’s not spin it too negatively either.  Compared to the rest of the world and historically, our unemployment numbers are still very low.

The challenge for the future therefore, to answer your question is some industries are adjusting just like the big thing which will happen in our generation Bruce and the generation of our children is the move from the west to the east in terms of economic power.

The big change is that some of the industries which were employing people twenty years ago and thirty years ago are not employing the same number of people now.  New industries will rise and we’ve got to make sure the workforce is skilled and that we are strategically helping our economy change so that people don’t get left behind.

BRUCE GUTHRIE: Employers seem reluctant to put people on at this point.  They seem to prefer to ask existing workers to simply work more hours.  Is that a fair assessment?

BILL SHORTEN:  I think it is.  It’s interesting.  Australians, there’s about eleven - just between eleven - just under eleven and a half million Australians go to work every day.  They’ve increased the amount of hours they work by point-eight per cent.  Put again in plain English, the average Australian works somewhere near two thousand hours a year with annual leave.  If all the extra hours Australians are working hadn’t changed from last year, there’d be ninety-six thousand extra jobs.

BRUCE GUTHRIE:  Okay, yes.

BILL SHORTEN:  Fair enough, people are working more so it’s - I think with something as important as the economy, it’s important not to spin.
The economic job growth is slowing, but again, compared to just about anywhere else in the world, our unemployment numbers are at still historically very low.

BRUCE GUTHRIE:  How do you overcome that employer reluctance to put more people on?  If they are just really saying, listen, can you put in an extra three hours on Friday and it’s costing us ninety-six thousand jobs I think was the figure you used.  Isn’t that a challenge for you to start convincing employers to change that mindset?

BILL SHORTEN:  Well I’m reluctant to say that people can’t work more if they want some more dollars to pay the bills.  I think there are three factors at work and some of this is a personal thing and not just being the Acting Treasurer.

One is the nightly news talking about the upheaval in Europe affects confidence.  Now to some extent there is some validity for the concern.  Our banks in Australia raise a fair bit of their money from overseas.  If the whole world is competing for less money, well then that’s pressure.  We do some trade withEurope.

But I also think interest rates in Australia affect confidence.  If you talk to any small business person, I think they are relieved that the last two interest rates have come through.  All of these factors go to confidence.

Again though and you’ve worked in the media and you’ve studied the media.  You know that bad news sells more easily than good news.  The fact of the matter is that in Australia, we are going better relatively than the rest of the world.  In particular I notice that some of the newspapers are saying that this is the lowest net jobs growth period that we’ve had in twenty years.  Twenty years ago…

BRUCE GUTHRIE:    It’s a small comfort though isn’t it Bill Shorten if you haven’t got a job.

BILL SHORTEN:  Absolutely.

BRUCE GUTHRIE:  If it’s worse elsewhere.

BILL SHORTEN:  Yes.  Let’s be clear.  If you haven’t got a job here, it doesn’t really matter if you haven’t got a job somewhere else.  I understand that.  I think that’s right.  That’s why we’re putting in place programs to help the long term unemployed who have been neglected obviously for a fair portion of time.

We are going to revamp disability employment because I think there are prejudices out there about employing people with disabilities.
We also think there is more work that be done to encourage the employment of older people and indigenous Australians.  There are things we can do to help get people into work.  When I look back to 1992, I sort of looked up the Economic Almanac and…

BRUCE GUTHRIE:    That’s always fun.

BILL SHORTEN:  Yes, well it’s interesting because it’s a reminder of where we’ve been.  At the moment, unemployment in Australia is five-point-two per cent.  Now it’s - sorry, now it’s five-point-two per cent.  In 1992 it was eleven-point-two per cent.  Interest rates were nearly six per cent then.  It’s four-point-two-five per cent now.

BRUCE GUTHRIE:  Again though, it’s a small comfort isn’t it to someone who hasn’t got a job.

BILL SHORTEN:   That is true and that is why we are focussed on getting people in to work.  The best way we can help people get in to work is giving them the best skills possible.  You don’t turn around a big super tanker of skilled experts and so when they hit their mid-fifties, manufacturing, the job goes.  We’ve got a lot of people stranded because there hasn’t been sufficient attention to skills and training.

You know, we can have a program at the other end of the life cycle with teenaged parents - teenage mums.  Just because a teenager has had a child, it doesn’t mean they should be stigmatised or shut out of the education system.  For the first time we are looking at programs to help teenage parents raise their child, which is the first priority, but also make sure that they continue their education until year twelve or equivalent.

BRUCE GUTHRIE:  Okay.  Thanks for joining us.  Bill Shorten, Acting Treasurer there on the state of employment figures. What’s your situation?  Are you unemployed or overworked?  It seems to be one or the other.  As Bill Shorten said there, if employers had to put people on rather than ask existing employees to work extra hours, probably ninety-six thousand extra jobs would have been created in the figures in the December quarter.  Give us a call on 1300 222 774.