The preparations for the federal budget, due to be handed down by Treasurer Joe Hockey on May 13, began on October 22 last year. This is the date on which Hockey announced a National Commission of Audit. The commission is chaired by Tony Shepherd, who just happens to be the President of the Business Council of Australia, the organisation representing Australia’s 100 largest companies. Shepherd’s appointment amounts to an invitation to big business to tell the government how it wants the economy to function in its favour during the Coalition’s term of office.
The one thing that we can expect with some confidence this year is an increase in unemployment. An analysis of Australian employment statistics for 2013 shows that jobs growth was at its lowest level for more than 20 years. Last year, unemployment increased by more than 5000 people a month. In the month of December, the economy lost 23,000 jobs, making last year the weakest calendar year of jobs growth since 1992. The number of officially unemployed increased by more than 9% to 722,000.
Qantas has announced the closure of its maintenance base for Boeing 747 aircraft at Avalon airport in Victoria. About 300 workers are to be sacked, most of them from the local town of Geelong. The Australian Licensed Aircraft Engineers Association has questioned company claims that the jobs will be transferred to the more efficient Brisbane maintenance base, suggesting that a shortage of skilled workers in Brisbane will mean the maintenance is mainly done offshore in south-east Asia. These job losses add to a long string of bad news for employment in Geelong.
This is the Lucky Country, right? The Lucky Country that escaped the recession after the global financial crisis. The Lucky Country where a mining heiress’s wealth grows by $650 a second. Where banks break new profit records, year after year. Not so “lucky” for some though. An ongoing Roy Morgan survey found 2.41 million people in Australia (19.3% of the workforce) were unemployed or underemployed in October. An estimated 1.33 million (10.7% of the workforce) of these were unemployed.
When the global financial crisis (GFC) unfolded in 2008, the unemployment rate for 15 to 19-year-olds looking for full-time work in Australia increased from 15% to 25%. It has remained at this level ever since. In July, it stood at 25.5%. However, in the 10 areas listed by the Department of Human Services as the most disadvantaged in the country, the youth unemployment rate is more than 40%.
The Illawarra regions of Shellharbour, Shoalhaven and Kiama combined have the highest unemployment rate in the country, at 15.3%, the Australia Bureau of Statistics said. This is 178% higher than the national average of 5.5%. If Wollongong is included, the average figure is 10.2%, 85% higher than the national average. The decline in manufacturing has hit the region hard. In 2011, Bluescope announced it would sack 700 workers at its Port Kembla steelworkers. In response to those sackings, Patrick Stevedoring announced the next month that it was sacking 160 wharf workers at Port Kembla.
Unemployed workers staged a protest at a Werribee construction site where they say workers have been brought from overseas on subclass 457 work visas, without advertising the positions locally. “We've spoken to management on site, they have confirmed there's 457 visa workers here,” protest spokesperson Nick Donohue told Green Left Weekly. “The 457 workers are welding tanks. We've got an abundance of skilled labour in the area that can do the same job, so there's no necessity for these workers to be brought here,” Donohue said.
Recent national figures published by the Sydney Morning Herald show the rate of youth unemployment in Australia is well above the national average, hitting 17.3%. The figure is more than triple national unemployment, which stood at 5.2% in December. Almost one in five people aged 15 to 19 and not studying are out of work.
One of Australia’s richest men, mining magnate Andrew “Twiggy” Forrest, used Australian television on October 24 to send an address to the nation about his “Generation One” campaign, which aims to “close the gap” between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians. I don’t have any air-time, but I do have page space. This is my address to Twiggy. * * * Dear Mr Forrest, I think we have something in common (yes, I’m surprised too).
Mining magnate Andrew “Twiggy” Forrest had an opportunity on ABC’s November 1 screening of Q&A to defend his record on Aboriginal employment. He didn’t do very well. “You can see that through Generation One, a real challenge to fill those jobs, because we've proven for all time that corporate Australia — in fact every Australian — isn't racist”, Forrest said. “We do love our first Australians. We do want to help them as much as we can but we can do it without just throwing money, and I believe I could do more.”
As Labor Treasurer Wayne Swan continues to preach about a strong Australian economy underlined by a surge in job creation, youth unemployment figures continue to rise to record heights, reflecting a disturbing global trend. According to the August 12 Sydney Morning Herald, in 2009, global youth unemployment grew at a rate twice that of adults, affecting 13% of 15 to 24-year-olds. Australia was not exempt from the alarming trends.
Gippsland unions and community organisations took part in the fourth in a series of “transition jobs seminars”. The seminar took place on October 13 under the auspices of the Gippsland Trades and Labour Council (GTLC) and the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology (RMIT). It dealt with the region’s current skills base in brown-coal mining, dairy and other industries, and the sort of training needed to skill workers for environmentally sustainable production.
It was the good news of the month on the Australian economic front. The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) announced on June 10 that the official unemployment rate had dropped to 5.2%. But economic commentators have warned that this is close to the lowest level of unemployment the economy can bear without risking inflation. This was not good news for the 600,900 people who the ABS estimates are still officially unemployed (on a seasonally adjusted basis).