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Jobs data broken: Joe Hockey to fix it

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Treasurer Joe Hockey says he’s worried about the “volatility” of unemployment data after the ABS admitted there were problems with its latest jobs figures.

Mr Hockey says he’ll present cabinet with some options to make the bureau “more contemporary” in a few weeks.

The ABS admitted on Wednesday that there were problems with its July and August employment data, which showed a spike in the jobless rate and a huge rise in employment respectively.

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Mr Hockey says while the ABS is still one of the best statistical collection bodies in the world, he’s always been concerned about the volatility of unemployment data.

He says the body doesn’t have enough resources to update computer systems or upgrade structural processes.

“I’ve said on a number of occasions the numbers can be volatile out of the ABS, especially when they’re on a monthly basis,” Mr Hockey told reporters in Washington.

“I am unhappy with the volatility of the series.”

Mr Hockey has been working with the ABS over the past months to implement better processes and ways of collecting data.

One of the options he’s looking at to boost funding is making users pay for ABS data.

“I’m not writing out a blank cheque for the Australian Bureau of Statistics,” Mr Hockey said.

The number of Australians with jobs rose by a whopping 121,000 in August, the largest monthly increase since records began in 1978, the ABS reported last month.

Forecasts had centred on a gain of only 10,000.

A month earlier the ABS said the unemployment rate jumped to a 12-year high of 6.4 per cent in July, which also surprised economists who were expecting the rate to stay steady at six per cent.

Doubts were raised about the veracity of the figures at the time they were both released.

The figures are adjusted to remove the effect of regular seasonal influences on the data.

But the ABS said there was very little evidence of the usual seasonality in the July and August figures, as well as the September figures, which will be released on Thursday.

The Bureau of Statistics said it will revise the figures for these months by replacing the reported seasonally adjusted figures with the unadjusted figures.

The acting Australian statistician at the ABS, Jonathan Palmer said there will be a review with independent external input to develop an appropriate method for seasonal adjustment for the October figures and those afterwards.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott said for years there had been arguments about the employment figures, but backed the ABS.

“I trust the statisticians to give us what they think is the best and most accurate figure,” he told Fairfax Radio.

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