Well, there was nothing in this morning’s February jobs report from the Australian Bureau of Statistics to change anyone’s opinion of the economy — low, slow and going nowhere at a snail’s pace might be the best description. Like retail sales, trade, car sales, building approvals and housing finance, there were good and bad parts in the jobs report which shows a labour market drifting aimlessly.

The ABS showed a small rise in the number of new jobs created, and a dip in the unemployment rate to 6.3% from the 6.4% reached in January. The trend rate was unchanged on 6.3% and was probably the more accurate reading.  The seasonally adjusted labour force participation rate decreased to 64.6%  in February 2015 from 64.7% in January 2015, but the trend rate was steady on 64.7%.

The ABS said 15,600 new jobs were created last month, seasonally adjusted — 10,300 of those were for full-time work, while 5300 part-time jobs were created. Hours worked rose in February, up 13 million hours (0.8%) to 1620.8 million hours.

The ABS said the employment to population ratio, which expresses the number of employed persons as a percentage of the civilian population aged 15 years and over, was unchanged at 60.6% (seasonally adjusted) in February 2015. In trend terms, the employment to population ratio was also unchanged at 60.6%. Victoria saw a big fall in its unemployment rate, from 6.6% to 6.0%, seasonally adjusted, though in trend terms the shift was less dramatic, from 6.4% to 6.3%.

All steady — and unimpressively — as she goes.

Meanwhile, the mining industry has made its latest pitch for a return to WorkChoices, with the Australian Mines and Metals Association releasing a report by KPMG claiming to show that the adoption of measures to reduce the power of unions, restrict strikes and curb “excessive increases in wages and conditions” would generate 36,000 jobs. Sounds impressive, except as AMMA has to admit, 36,000 jobs is less than one-third of 1% of employment in Australia. And, try as you might, you can’t find any reference to Australia’s recent labour productivity performance in the KPMG report. Curiously, the report stops its labour productivity analysis at 2008 — “the most recent productivity cycle”, apparently, and presumably nothing to do with how labour productivity growth under the current Fair Work Act framework has far outstripped productivity growth under WorkChoices. Maybe it was too much effort to go to the ABS site and get the most recent labour productivity data from the national accounts.

Noted heiress Gina Rinehart, however, doesn’t shilly-shally about with reports. Rinehart, who inherited her vast wealth from her father Lang Hancock, is today complaining about high costs for miners in Australia, particularly regulatory and approval costs. “Our costs are incredible,” Rinehart lamented (did we mention she’s an heiress, by the way?). Well, let’s ask an independent expert for an opinion: US mining analysts Behre Dolbear (we love that name, apart from anything else). For the last four years, Australia was rated as the best or second best mining investment destination when it came to approval processes — we only slipped to second behind Canada last year. And our tax system for miners is equal best in the world with Canada — and in Behre Dolbear’s opinion improved significantly in 2013-14.

Miners. As always, the “m” is pronounced “wh”.

Peter Fray

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