Fact check: Employment in Australia is worse than you think

by | May 6, 2019 | Government

In case RMIT/ABC Fact Check have missed this, Alan Austin analyses the facts and refutes the claims by the Coalition that it has served workers well and is the better economic manager.

VIRTUALLY THE entire developed world has enjoyed a phenomenal boom in investment, jobs and profits since 2014. Only a few poorly-managed economies have missed out on near-record employment growth. That dismal group includes Australia.

Comparable countries

The biggest winners in the jobs boom over the last five years have been the economies whacked most severely by the 2008 Global Financial Crisis (GFC). Spain’s jobless rate has tumbled from 26.09 per cent of the work force in 2013 down to 14.70 per cent now. More than 3.5 million Spaniards have gained jobs. Impressive.

Other countries successful in shifting workers off the dole include Greece, Ireland, Hungary, Portugal and Slovakia. All found jobs for more than six per cent of their work forces.

We are comparing here the 36 rich capitalist countries in the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). We are using World Bank DataBank statistics derived from the International Labour Organisation.


Economies to have shifted more than three percent of their workforce from the pool of unemployed into work include the USA, the United Kingdom, Denmark, the Netherlands, Estonia, the Czech Republic, Latvia and Poland. Another 14 OECD economies have increased people in paid employment by more than one percent.

Only six countries with significant 2013 jobless rates have failed to reduce them substantially through the current recovery. These are Australia, Austria, Chile, Luxembourg, Sweden and Turkey.

OECD ranking

Since records have been kept, Australia’s jobless rate has always been in the OECD’s top twenty. The best year during the Howard era was 2006 when Australia ranked 13th. After the 2007 election, Labor’s jobs surge added more than 232,000 in nine months. By the end of 2008, Australia’s ranking had risen to 11th, the highest ever.

Then came the financial crash which devastated most of the developed world. Only one OECD member averted deep recession and widespread job losses. That was Australia whose workforce contracted only slightly. Australia’s jobs ranking rose to eighth in 2009, a new all-time high, where it stayed for the next four years.

In the five years following the 2013 change of government, a million jobs were added in raw numbers – as the Coalition keeps reminding us – and the jobless rate declined marginally. But as the jobs boom accelerated worldwide, Australia’s ranking slipped steadily. It fell to 11th in 2014, down to 13th in 2015, then 14th in 2016 and a miserable 18th for the last two years.

The average jobless rate among the 36 OECD countries was 9.04 per cent in 2013. Australia then was way below that, at 5.66 per cent. The average now is 6.06 per cent, only one point above Australia’s ordinary 5.05 per cent.

Where should Australia be?

If Australia still ranked eighth in the OECD, the jobless rate would be between the Netherlands’ 3.3 per cent and Hungary’s 3.6 per cent. That is not a ridiculous proposition given the dramatic falls elsewhere.

Since 2013, Australia has failed to invest in infrastructure, has lagged on green energy job creation, has shut down its automotive and other industries, has allowed the retail sector to languish and has gained little from the global tourism bonanza.

Had Australia maintained eighth position, the jobless rate would be about 3.5 per cent instead of 5.05 per cent. That means 471,000 jobless instead of the 680,000 now.


Data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) shows workers who need to work more hours – many of them desperately – breached one million for the first time in August 2014. It has not fallen below seven figures since. It hit a record 1,141,000 late last year. That was 8.5 per cent of the labour force, up from 7.5 per cent in 2013.

Youth jobless

ABS data confirms the Coalition has let down younger workers more than any other sector. The highest the jobless rate for workers aged 15 to 19 reached during the Howard years was 23.8 per cent, early in its term. To the Howard administration’s credit, this fell to 14.2 per cent at the time of the 2007 election.

The rate fluctuated through the Labor years between a low of 10.7 per cent and a high of 19.5 per cent at the depths of the GFC. At the 2013 election the rate was 16.4 per cent, which ranked ninth in the OECD. In fact, the youth jobless rate ranked eighth or ninth among developed countries throughout the Labor period.

From 2014 onwards, however, the raw numbers, the jobless rate and the OECD ranking deteriorated markedly.

The number wanting jobs in 2013 was 122,400. It is now 151,000. The jobless rate then was 16.4 per cent. Now 18.1 per cent.

Ranking in the OECD fell from eighth in 2012 to 11th in 2014, to 14th in 2015, to 18th in 2017 and down to 21st now — the lowest ever.

Long term unemployed

Last month’s ABS data shows 150,500 Australians have been looking for work for more than one year. It has been above 150,000 for 61 of the last 62 monthly surveys. It has been above 180,000 nine times. The highest this reached during the Rudd/Gillard years was 136,700.

Public service jobs

The strongest growth sector has actually been government jobs, despite multiple Coalition promises before the 2013 election “to trim the public service.”

The relevant ABS file (which just started in 2014) shows government jobs steady at around 1.5 million from 2014 until mid 2016. That was between 12.3 and 12.9 per cent of the work force.

By early 2017 this had crept above 1.7 million and 13 per cent. By mid 2017 it was above 14 per cent, peaking in late 2018 above 1.9 million at 15.05 per cent.
This underscores the reality that Australia has not participated in the global boom in corporate investment, jobs, wages and profits.

Compared with the rest of the world, Australia’s economy has deteriorated badly across the board

Number of weeks looking for work

Through Labor’s last year, this averaged 36.5 weeks. Over the last 12 months, this has averaged 49.1 weeks, more than 12 weeks longer.

What of the Coalition narrative?

The conclusions seem clear. The last five years have been poor for jobs relative to earlier periods in Australia and to the rest of the world.

Claims that the Coalition has served workers well and is the better manager of the economy are refuted by the facts.



Alan Austin

Alan Austin is a freelance journalist with interests in news media, religious affairs and economic and social issues.

You can follow Alan on Twitter @alanaustin001 .


Don’t let sneaky graphs fool you: minimum wages do not cost jobs

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Alan Austin

Alan Austin

Alan Austin is a freelance journalist with interests in news media, religious affairs and economic and social issues. You can follow Alan on Twitter @alanaustin001.


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