In a major surprise, Australia’s jobless rate remained steady at 5.8% last month. Thousands of part time jobs were created, leading to a sharp, 32,000 rise in the number of people who found work.

The news, from the Australian Bureau of Statistics, flies in the face of market forecasts for a rise of 16,000 or so in the number of jobless and an unemployment rate of 6%.

Instead, the number of unemployed increased by just 800 in the month. A graph of the unemployment rate published with today’s data now has a noticeable flattening at the top, suggesting the rate could be closer to peaking than previously thought.

The ANZ this week estimated the unemployment rate would peak at 7.5%, with the July rate hitting 6.1%, with 18,000 jobs lost. In fact the rate has muddled from 5.7% down to 5.5%, then up to 5.8% since March of this year. Some thought the April figure was caused by the smaller sample used by the ABS since last July, but the old sample size has been restored and the unemployment rate is only up 0.1% from March.

The news will add to suggestions that the economy is better placed than thought, despite this week’s 1.4% slide in retail sales. The trade account did better than forecast in June and the Reserve Bank’s Commodity Price Index for July shows what could be the start of steadying in the sharp fall in commodity returns this year.

Some commentators will speculate that the news brings a rate rise closer from the RBA, but the improvement last month would have to be sustained for several months.

The ABS said full time employment “increased by 32,200 to 10,793,600. Full-time employment decreased by 16,000 to 7,590,400 and part-time employment increased by 48,200 to 3,203,200.”

That figure for part time work is by far the highest every recorded and the first time it has been over 3 million positions. In fact the number of part time jobs has been running at record levels for the past four months as more employers switch workers to less than full time work rather than sack them.

The number of people employed at 10,793,600 last month was the highest since last February when it was 10.805 million.

The ABS said that unemployment “increased by 800 to 664,100. The number of persons looking for full-time work decreased by 4,800 to 495,900 and the number of persons looking for part-time work increased by 5,600 to 168,200.”

And the unemployment rate “remained steady at 5.8%. The male unemployment rate increased 0.1 percentage point to 6.2%, and the female unemployment rate decreased 0.1 percentage point to 5.3%.”

The ABS also, published a national set of figures for the number of hours worked which showed a small fall in July after a rise in June.