Australia’s unemployment rate hit a four-year high of 5.2% in February, but there is even worse news for Queensland and Premier Anna Bligh as she approaches the state election.

Queensland’s unemployment rate has soared and the number of people out of work has jumped 24,000 in the past year as the end of the resources boom has seen jobs in coal, zinc, lead, and copper mines go, in the service sector, construction and property too, with the closure of mines, cutting of production and the crunching of the commercial economy along the coast, especially north and south of Brisbane.

Total employment has risen over the past year, but not by enough to put a lid on the number of Australians out of work, which topped 62,000 in February, up from 28,000 a year earlier. NSW is the worst state with a rate of 5.8% in February.

Major coal miners like Xstrata, Rio Tinto, Macarthur and BHP Mitsubishi have cut thousands of jobs in the past few months from their Queensland operations, while struggling OZ Minerals have cut staff at its Century lead mine in the north of the state. Several small copper mines in the same area have closed or cut back.

The ABS figures showed Queensland’s unemployment rate hit 4.5% last month, from 4.4% in January and the boom time 3.6% a year ago when the state was still riding high on the back of soaring coal, copper and lead and zinc prices. 3,000 jobs were lost in Queensland in February.

The other boom state, Western Australia, saw 19,000 jobs lost over the year, with the rate rising to 4.2% from 3.3% in January and a tiny 2.8% in February 2008. A number of mines across WA, including the expensive Ravensthorpe mine of BHP Billiton in the state’s south, have been shut or curtailed output: 11,000 jobs were lost in WA in February alone.

But once again forecasts for a sharp rise in overall job losses has eluded us, if we are to believe the February Labour Force figures from the Australian Bureau of Statistics.

The ABS reported this morning that a net 1800 jobs were created in February, a figures sharply at odds with the rise in the unemployment rate to 5.2%, the highest level in four years and with continuing reports of job cuts from the likes of Pacific Brands, car parts suppliers in Tasmania and southern NSW and meat workers in WA.

The report is also completely at odds with the 20,000 loss estimate from the market, with the unemployment rate worse than the market forecast of 5%.

The unemployment rate is up from the 4.8% in January, 4.5% in December and the low of 3.9% in February 2008, which marked the lowest unemployment rate for years. The number of unemployed has risen by 155,000 people since February last year, to more than 590,000 in February. The number of full time jobs has fallen 34,000, but the number of part time work rose by around 110,000.

The 1800 jobs created last month was up on the 1200 jobs created in February.

The ABS reported: “Full-time employment decreased by 53,800 to 7,664,200 and part-time employment increased by 55,600 to 3,146,200. Unemployment increased by 47,100 to 590,500. The number of persons looking for full-time work increased by 44,400 to 426,000 and the number of persons looking for part-time work increased by 2,600 to 164,500.”

The unemployment rate, “increased by 0.4 percentage points to 5.2%. The male unemployment rate increased by 0.3 percentage points to 5.1%, and the female unemployment rate increased by 0.5 percentage points to 5.3%.”

The ABS said the participation rate, “increased by 0.2 percentage points to 65.5%” and that’s another mystery: on the face of it it’s a sign of more people being confident about finding work. the 65.5% rate is near the all time recent high. 

The ANZ, NAB and Westpac have all increased their forecasts for unemployment: they expect a peak of around 7.5% by midway through next year, compared to the peak of 7% estimated by Federal Treasury.

NSW saw its unemployment rate hit 5.8%, up from 5.5% in January and 4.1% a year ago. Victoria saw its rate rise to 5.6% from 4.8% and 4.1% a year ago as well.

Tasmania, the Northern territory and the ACT were unaffected: their unemployment rates were steady or lower on the figures for January and a year ago.