QUESTIONS WITHOUT NOTICE -- Employment


Senator IAN MACDONALD (Queensland) (14:48): My question is to the Minister representing the Minister for Employment Participation, Senator Wong. I ask the minister: does she recall her letter to Mr Marcus L'Estrange on 8 March 2007, where she argued that the official unemployment figures did not accurately reflect the real figures of unemployment and underemployment in Australia I ask the minister: does she stand by her statement in that letter of the disconnect between ABS unemployment figures and the true state of the Australian labour market Just to help the minister, two very simple and brief questions: does she recall her argument in that letter about the official unemployment figures, and does she stand by her statement about the disconnect between the ABS unemployment figures and the true state of the Australian labour market

Senator Chris Evans: Mr President, I rise on a point of order. I think the senator is asking a question of Senator Wong about a letter she wrote not in her capacity representing the minister for employment. He sought to ask her a question in her capacity representing the minister for employment and then referred to a letter that I think he asserts Senator Wong wrote not in that capacity. Clearly that is out of order. He is not asking a question of Senator Wong in her capacity, as he pretended he did. Mr President, on that basis, it is not a question directed at her in her responsibility in representing the minister for employment and it ought to be ruled out of order.

The PRESIDENT: There is no point of order.

Senator Chris Evans: There is.

The PRESIDENT: Order! There is not. I have listened closely to the question. I believe the question is in order. The minister can answer that part of the question which does refer to her portfolio in the representational capacity that she has been asked. It is the minister representing the Minister for Employment Participation.

Senator WONG (South AustraliaMinister for Finance and Deregulation) (14:51): Mr President, there is no aspect of that question within the representing portfolio.

Senator Brandis: Mr President, on a point of order.

The PRESIDENT: The question has been answered but I will take your point of order.

Senator Brandis: Mr President, the minister specifically said she would not answer the question. You directed her to do so. The question asked whether the minister stood by a statement concerning employment statistics, which she had made earlier, some years ago. You should direct her to the question: does she stand by that which she once said

Senator Jacinta Collins: Mr President, I rise on a point of order. I understand that you are keen to progress dealing with this matter but it is important that it be understood very clearly before us the nature of the response, which has been completely misrepresented by Senator Brandis. Senator Wong clearly indicated that there was no aspect of that question that fits within her representation of the minister.

The PRESIDENT: Order on both sides! The minister did answer the question. I cannot instruct a minister how to answer the question. The minister did give an answer. I cannot instruct a minister and direct a minister how to answer the question. That is something that the minister has in their own right.

Senator Ian Macdonald: Mr President, I rise on a point of order. I asked the Minister for Employment Participation: does she agree with the statement made by Senator Wong

The PRESIDENT: NoI understand she is representing the minister. You said 'as the minister'.

Senator Ian Macdonald: As the minister representing the minister.

The PRESIDENT: Yes, that is correct.

Senator Ian Macdonald: Does she agree with the statement made by a Senator Wong in 2007 about the disconnect between the ABS unemployment figures and the true state of the Australian labour market So what I am saying to the Minister representing the Minister for Employment Participation is: does she agree with a statement that a Senator Wong made in 2007 regarding the disconnect between the official unemployment figures and the true state of the Australian labour market

Senator WONG: The ABS utilises definitions in relation to the official unemployment figures which have been in place for some time. I can take on notice how long, but my recollection is they certainly have used the same definition under both parties of government.

Senator Ian Macdonald: Mr President, I rise on a point of order. My question was: does the Minister representing the Minister for Employment Participation agree with a statement by a Senator Wong about the disconnect Either the minister for employment participation representative agrees with the statement of a Senator Wong back in 2007 or she does not. That is the question. I did not ask for a definition or explanation.

Senator Jacinta Collins: Mr President, there is no point of order. Senator Wong is dealing with relevant background to the question, very generously given the nature of the question, and I suggest that the opposition listen.

The PRESIDENT: I have said this before: I am not able to tell the minister how to answer the question. I believe that the minister was answering the question. The minister still has 42 seconds remaining to answer the question. I call the minister.

Senator WONG: I am, of course, as always, flattered by the senator's interest in me and everything I have said through the years, but what I was trying to explain to him

Senator Brandis interjecting

Senator WONG: I am not sure if I should take that as a compliment or otherwise, Senator Brandis.

The PRESIDENT: Order! Ignore the interjections, Senator Wong.

Senator WONG: What I was trying to explain to him is that the ABS definition of unemployment is transparent, is available on their website and is, as I saidand I will check thisthe same as was in place when Mr Costello was Treasurer. Obviously, the unemployment rate does not measure those not in the labour force, as it did not when Mr Costello was Treasurer.

Senator IAN MACDONALD (Queensland) (14:55): I am not sure whether Senator Wong agrees with Senator Wong, but I will try a supplementary question. Does the minister agree with the Roy Morgan organisation estimate which shows that the real unemployment number in Australia is currently 1.2 million peoplethat is, 9.8 per cent of the workforceand that an additional 7.5 per cent of Australiansthat is, 926,000 peopleare underemployed That is, a total of 2.13 million Australians, or 17.3 per cent, are looking for work or looking (Time expired)

Senator WONG (South AustraliaMinister for Finance and Deregulation) (14:56): I am not quite sure what the question means, other than he might be a little bit obsessed with me, but that is okay. What I would say is this: the ABS does publish statistics on the labour market and that includes the unemployment rate, it includes

Senator Ian Macdonald: Mr President, I rise on a point of order going to direct relevance. I did not ask about the ABS figures; I said: does Senator Wong, as the representative minister, agree with the Roy Morgan organisation figures which show that 17.3 per cent of Australians are unemployed or underemployed That is what I asked. Do you agree with that, Minister, or don't you If you don't, what are your figures

The PRESIDENT: There is no point of order. The minister still has 38 seconds remaining to answer the question. I have been listening to the minister's answer. I believe the minister is in order.

Senator WONG: The official unemployment rate is 5.1 per cent. That reflects some softening in the labour market, as the senator may or may not know. The participation rate did also shift on a seasonally adjusted basis to 65 per cent, which is down by 0.2 per cent. If the senator is referring to the figures which are not the official unemployment rate figures, I will see if I can find any additional information to assist him on this matter.

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