Release type: Transcript


Press conference, Parliament House


The Hon Tony Burke MP
Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations
Minister for the Arts

TONY BURKE MP:  Thanks very much. At a time when people are doing it tough in so many ways, to have people have a job is possibly one of the most important things of all. We now have 790,000 extra jobs in Australia since the Albanese Government came to office.

We already knew that inflation was down, and wages were up. As of today, we know that jobs are up, and unemployment is down. Unemployment down to 3.7 per cent. The additional jobs in the month of February – 116,500. Those jobs have offset some softer numbers that we had in the previous two months. Importantly, of those 116,500 jobs, 56 per cent of them are full-time jobs. 

We are starting to see play out where this Government said we wanted people to have more access to secure jobs. We are seeing that come through in the data as to what's happening in real-time. Also, sometimes a low unemployment rate is masked by people not participating in employment. But on this occasion, the participation rate has gone up as the unemployment rate has gone down. Youth unemployment also is down 0.3 per cent and the hours worked is up.

We also have a very good story with respect to women in the workforce, with the number of women in work now in Australia now at a record high. 

Effectively for the different speeches in the House and column inches that were given, that said, our changes to workplace law would see an impact on whether or not people had a job at all. I guess the results are in. As these industrial relations laws have taken effect, we have not seen a loss of Australian jobs, but we have seen more people in work. We have continued to see more people in secure work, and we have, at the same time as inflation is moderating, seen real wages over the last three quarters start to rise again. Happy to take any questions.

JOURNALIST: Minister Burke, although these numbers are very good, the RBA hasn't changed its estimates for an unemployment rate with a four in front of it later this year and into next year [inaudible]. The GDP growth very, very sluggish. Isn't it inevitable that we'll eventually have numbers back in the four per cent in the future?

BURKE: We need to remember in terms of long-term averages, the average unemployment rate under the previous government was 5.6 per cent. So, even the numbers that you're casting about there and the previous unemployment rate before 3.7, it did have a four in front of it. The only time since the monthly data started to be recorded. The only year in the history of that data where every unemployment rate had a three in front of it was last year. So, there is a record on jobs growth for the Albanese Labor Government that's second to none in terms of jobs growth. No first-term government has had the sorts of new jobs growth that we've seen. But I think that also needs to be viewed really clearly in the lens of what has been said and written about what our reforms would mean. We have shown that while inflation is moderating, wages can grow and there can in fact be an economy with more jobs and a good number of them secure jobs.

JOURNALIST: Minister, do you think that we can - just kind of the same kind of question. Do you think that we can get inflation down? I know it's been moderating. Do you think we can get it back down to where we need it, below three per cent with an unemployment rate that starts with a three?

BURKE: The Reserve Bank will be looking at not only at the headline rates but also at the trend rates. And so, there's still a softening going on throughout the economy. There's still a softening, and the Treasurer has referred to that before. But this Government has shown that - look at the results and look at what happened to inflation during that twelve-month period, where it was the first twelve-month period where every unemployment rate had a three in front of it. During that time, inflation continued to moderate. The highest of those inflationary figures, as the reporting comes out of the quarterly figures happened immediately before we came to office. And so, the fight against inflation is not over. We don't pretend otherwise. The fight against inflation is not over, but our economic and fiscal policy are pushing that moderating. The Reserve Bank Governor has confirmed that the economic and fiscal policy of the Government, from Treasurer Jim Chalmers and Finance Minister Katy Gallagher is heading in the right direction.

JOURNALIST: The annual wage review is coming up in a couple of months. Will the Government be making a submission again, and if so, will that be again above inflation wage increase?

BURKE: We'll have more to say about the annual wage review, but certainly we will be making a submission. There's no doubt we'll be making a submission. We have with the previous two submissions been very mindful that the people who are always most at risk of inflationary impacts are always people on the lowest wages. We've made sure that special attention in our submission is given to those. But I won't be announcing the full approach now.

JOURNALIST: The Fair Work Commission ordered a 23 per cent increase in the benchmark rate in the aged care work value case. Is the Government going to argue to stagger that increase as you did for the interim increase, 15 per cent that they had orders?

BURKE: We certainly welcome the decision of the Fair Work Commission, but we will make an announcement at a later day. Not now, in terms of what our approach will be to that, but we welcome it and there is no doubt aged care workers needed a pay rise. That was made clear in the report of the Royal Commission, and it's something that we supported. It's something that we argued for before the Fair Work Commission. We welcome the decision and as we finalise what our submissions will be to the Fair Work Commission, we'll have more to say.

JOURNALIST:  Some of the other figures that were released today looked at population growth, and there's a key driver of population growth at the moment is a surge in migration. Is there a concern that as those migration figures continue to track in the way that they are, that it is going to have an adverse effect on the labour market in coming months?

BURKE: We're beyond my portfolio but let me say this. The figures that have come out today with respect to population don't cover the substantial changes that the Government made mid to late last year. There were significant changes we made there in terms of the integrity of the visa system and in particular in the integrity of the international education system. International education is really important, but we don't want there to be some rogue providers effectively running visa factories. Those changes were made last year. They're not reflected in the current numbers. And you've already had independent analysis make clear that the projections as to where total population should be by around 2030 will actually be lower than what had been predicted under the previous government.

JOURNALIST: But the Government accepts a NOM of more than half a million too high?

BURKE: As I say, today's numbers don't reflect changes that we've made.


BURKE: You're going beyond my portfolio and I'm not going to - and we made those changes for very specific reasons about the integrity of our system. You will see moderation of those numbers as a result of those changes that aren't reflected now. We've got numbers at the moment that have come out that are based on settings that have now been changed.

JOURNALIST: Can I just ask you about the rhetoric from the Shadow Immigration Minister? He says that the influx of migration is causing the rental crisis, that people can't see their GP, that it's contributing to cost of living problems. What do you say to those comments?

BURKE: I'd say two things. I'd say, first of all, he clearly hasn't had a conversation with Peter Dutton. There's plenty on the record from Peter Dutton where he's been boasting about levels of immigration under him and where he's been publicly advocating for higher rates of immigration, and the Prime Minister has read those quotes out to the Parliament. So, the shadows should particularly talk to Peter Dutton on that. Where the relevant shadows are all in accordance with Peter Dutton. Are there cries that if you did anything to get people better wages, that you'd end up with fewer jobs? And we've seen today those arguments were wrong.

JOURNALIST: Sorry, can I ask you, as a local member, people in your constituency might be concerned about infrastructure pain from big migration arrivals? What would you say to them? Is that contributing to infrastructure pain and to general population pain?

BURKE: I say, once again, today's numbers don't reflect changes that this Government made. We've made substantial changes to what happened. When we came to office, there were still loopholes that have been left there since the pandemic that were still in the system. We made substantial changes mid to late last year. Those changes will be reflected in future numbers. They're not reflected in today's numbers. So that's why the different pressures that we're talking about here, the numbers that will come in, into the future, will show the impact of changes that we have made.

JOURNALIST: Can I just ask with the offshore gas bill - that was due to be debated this week in the House but was pulled - why was that pulled? When is it coming back? Is the Government making amendments to its own bill?

BURKE: The Opposition were very upset with us this week that we wanted to spend - I think so upset that Paul Fletcher even did a tweet. It was that serious about the fact that we were spending the whole week with the main Bill in the main chamber being the Administrative Review Tribunal, they were upset about that. They even bizarrely from Opposition, started moving that our members be no further heard when we talked about the way they'd stacked the AAT. This week in the House, the legislative program has been relatively crowded. Legislation that we didn't deal with this week, I expect that we'll deal with next week.

JOURNALIST: I just want to take you back to the labour force numbers. There was a pretty weak picture, a growth picture in the national account. And a lot of the other SEEK job numbers you might have seen, show a lot of weakness in the labour market. Do you feel there'd be a disconnect between the numbers today? The wages stats and some of these other indicators?

BURKE: Part of the story of today is the increased number of people who had jobs lined up over summer to start in February. There's been a bit of that over the last two years. This year that's happened at a much stronger rate. That is part of what we've seen with today's figures. It's also true, though, that other predictions that have said there is some softening in the economy. When you look at the trend data that is reflected in what's available today.

JOURNALIST: Minister, the jobs market has been incredibly good at absorbing those high levels of immigration. As you talked about, there's going to be changes coming through that aren't reflected in those high figures we've seen today. So, if we start to see that migration number come down and we're going to, I guess, see those later shortages that we have seen in the last couple of years reemerge as the jobs market still stands really strong, but we don't have that immigration intake [inaudible].

BURKE: The people with policy responsibility will be able to give a more detailed answer than this. But if you look at the areas that I referred to, the COVID loopholes, issues of integrity, particularly in the international student system, they're not areas that go to the chronic skill shortage part of the immigration system. The areas where it's incredibly important for the economy, for people involved in infrastructure, involved in housing, things like that, they're not the areas where the tightening occurred. So, the scenario you've painted I don't think is matched by the way those reforms were introduced last year. There was one here and then there, and then I will have to get going.

JOURNALIST: With your Leader of the House hat on. You pointed to the crowded legislative agenda in response to Paul's question then. Do you think it washes with the public that you've, with the agreement of your colleagues, cancelled the sittings next Thursday and given yourself an extra earlier start to the Easter long weekend?

BURKE: If you know anything about the life of a Member of Parliament, what is often a long weekend is often at our end, really important events that are important to be at for the community. The issue of cancelling the day in Parliament was first raised with me by regional Opposition members and they had a reasonable case for me. My preference – and I'm probably alone in this building on this – I’d be happy if we sat every day of the year. I love it when Parliament's on and I'm clearly alone in this room. But for me, when Parliament finishes, I can hop in the car, drive up the M5 and I'm home in Punchbowl within 3 hours. If you're a regional member, you're looking at what can be a two-day trek depending on availability of flights. That can be particularly important given that the day following the Thursday sitting is Good Friday. There are particular, like, in my faith, there are services at 11:00 and 03:00 that are both very important to be at. When people made that case that seemed like a reasonable case to make, we checked across with different people in the Parliament. The resolution was carried unanimously. I think of all the arguments about are we working or not, or what are people doing? I really think on this one, the case that was put to me was a very reasonable one and I was happy to back it in, notwithstanding my usual preference and love of the parliament when it's on. And I think I had a final question.

JOURNALIST: So, if you agree with the ACTU that we can get inflation down with unemployment, with the three in front of it, it doesn't need to go any higher? We can still achieve that inflation level?

BURKE: We've seen that live. What you're describing is not simply a statement from an organisation, it's actually the story of the statistics for most of the life of this government.

I really think we need to get to the point where we can do better than saying the path to prosperity is high unemployment and low wages. Like, really? That's the argument that's put by some in this place. We want a situation where inflation is going down, wages are going up, employment's going up and unemployment is low. At the moment, we're getting all four. People are still doing it tough after the long period and spike of inflation.

It's not like getting real wages in front means suddenly things are better. That's not the situation that Australians are facing. But it is true that the Government's plan, our economic discipline and the legal changes we've been making are having a positive impact on turning that corner for Australians. 

Thank you.