A clear hint of what’s to come. Snuck away in an Australian Bureau of Statistics release last week that drew together labour statistics from a range of ABS household and business surveys to provide an overall picture of the labour market was a clear hint of the unemployment horror to come. Australian Labour Market Statistics January 2009 contained no new numbers and was therefore largely ignored by the press and economic pundits but there was a feature article putting the spotlight on what the Statistician describes as “underutilisation”. The article describes how among the significant labour market changes of the last decade is the increase in the proportion of employed people working part-time (from 15% in 1978 to 28% in 2007). It explains:

As part-time employment has become more prevalent, there is an increasing scope for underemployment, that is part-time workers who would prefer to work more hours. With the increase in part-time employment, underemployment has become an important social and economic issue, and as such the quarterly labour force underutilisation rate (QLFUR) (unemployed plus the underemployed as a proportion of the labour force) is an increasingly important indicator of spare capacity in the labour market.

The ABS drew attention to how, in seasonally adjusted terms, the QLFUR was 10.8% in November 2008, an increase of 0.9 percentage points from August 2008 (9.9%). This was the largest quarter to quarter movement of the seasonally adjusted data since the series started in May 2001. As a result of this increase, the trend QLFUR was 10.6% in November 2008, an increase of 0.5 percentage points from the trend series low observed in May 2008 (10.1%), indicating a turning point in the series. Which is a cautious way of saying that the jobs market is about to get considerably tougher and that the problem set in during the three months to November last year.

The December labour force figures showing a fall in full time employment of 43,900 while part time employment rose by 42,800 suggest the trend towards underutilisation is continuing.

Don’t mention the dole. The best way of making sure that pesky journalists don’t refer to an increase in the number of people on the dole is to make the figures of the number of people on the euphemistically named New Start Allowance and the Youth Allowance unavailable. And that is exactly what has happened to this information on the Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations website. Yesterday when I went to the site all I got was an error message.

Surely the Labor Government committed to making information freely available is not responsible and it must be one of those gremlins which on occasions even affects us at Crikey! What you can find is a summary of DEEWR’s Leading Indicator of Employment which has fallen for the twelfth consecutive month in January. This monthly Indicator anticipates movements in the growth cycle of employment but the very same gremlin has struck the page giving the exact details. I am sure my heroine Julia Gillard will not be pleased.

A television star confirmed and a radio star born. For those of us addicted to the electronic media, summer is always an exciting time for we get to see and listen to different talent on our ABC. This year we have been rewarded with confirmation that Ali Moore is now the complete package of a relaxed and intelligent television presenter. There has been nothing silly about her season in the 7.30 Report chair. And on my local ABC of a morning there has been the delight this week of listening to Samantha Maiden of The Australian filling in as a presenter. I have long admired her political writing but she clearly has the gift of the gab as well.

Core promises, non-core promises and now we bring you aspirational promises. And politicians wonder why the people don’t actually believe much they say! ACT Chief Minister John Stanhope has come up with a new excuse why a political promise was not really a promise at all. Many years ago, you see, the ACT Government settled upon the slogan “No Waste by 2010” to describe the Territory’s commitment to ending the process of having to bury household waste in a tip. The ACT was to become the Australian vanguard for recycling. Alas as the deadline approaches the nonsense of the slogan is revealed as nonsense so Chief Minister Stanhope has declared that the slogan was only ever “aspirational” and designed to do no more than inspire the community to recycle. Standing at the Mugga Lane tip he declared “we will never achieve a situation where there is no waste that’s actually [sent] to landfill, it will never ever be achieved. I think it was an appropriate slogan and an appropriate target.”

Getting ready for a real election. In California overnight Australian time, the nominees for this year’s Academy Awards will be announced and the real game of election politics can begin. Across its wide range of categories, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences will select five movies to go on the ballot papers sent to its 6000 members and that means many of those on our Crikey Best Film Election Indicator will be eliminated.

The major film critics have pretty much agreed that Slum Dog Millionaire, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Frost/Nixon and Milk will survive the cut. The rest on the Indicator list are fighting it out for the final spot.

Peter Fray

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