Prime Minister Tony Abbott believes the rising trend in the jobless rate could be turned around quite quickly if the government is allowed to get on with its job.
The unemployment rate jumped to a decade-high of six per cent last month, which Employment Minister Eric Abetz described as the “wash through” from the previous Labor government’s policies.
“Regrettably, the unemployment surge is continuing,” Senator Abetz told ABC radio on Friday.
Reserve Bank assistant governor (economics) Christopher Kent said while the labour market is weak, Thursday’s figures were not out of line with what the central bank had been expecting.
“We keep saying the unemployment rate will edge up for a bit longer while growth remains below trend,” he told a CEDA conference in Sydney.
But the prime minister offered hope for the nearly 730,000 people who are now out of work.
“If we are allowed to get on with our job, I believe things will get better, and they will get better quite quickly,” he told Fairfax radio on Friday.
While he could not guarantee that jobs figures won’t bounce around month to month, he reiterated that the Labor government had forecast a 6.25 per cent unemployment rate by the middle of 2014.
Assistant shadow treasurer Andrew Leigh said the Abbott government was inclined to “pick and choose” its forecasts.
“They’re disavowing the forecast from the pre-election fiscal outlook of a return to (budget) surplus, but somehow they want to claim other forecasts,” he told ABC radio.
“For everything you can say about the Rudd and Gillard governments … unemployment never hit six per cent under Labor.”
Mr Abbott said businesses need to feel they have the freedom to invest, employ and create, but in some cases they are faced with quite restrictive enterprise bargaining agreements.
“If we want to be the best paid workers in the world, we do have to be the most productive workers,” he said.
Turning to the budget, Mr Abbott defended the government’s planned $4 billion sale of Medibank Private.
The private health insurer was the only asset up for sale at this stage, but Mr Abbott couldn’t guarantee what is in government ownership now will stay that way forever.
“We don’t have any plans to sell any commonwealth assets of substance other than Medibank Private,” he said.
The Urban Development Institute of Australia hopes the government will use its first budget on May 13 to boost investment in new housing and improve the affordability for new buyers.
“Despite record low interest rates, the dream of home ownership is still out of reach for far too many households,” national president Cameron Shephard said in the institute’s pre-budget submission.