Bennelong battle: why the PM turned up the wick on jobs

Malcolm Turnbull has cited jobs growth and an unemployment rate of just 5.4 per cent as vindication for his widely pilloried 2016 election slogan “jobs and growth”, while warning of disaster if Bennelong voters take Bill Shorten any closer to the prime ministership.
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His strident comments came as the byelection nears its last full campaign day with the outcome determining if the Coalition retains its one seat majority in the Parliament.

In a sign of the government’s nervousness, Mr Turnbull sharpened his attack on Labor’s Kristina Keneally, suggesting the star candidate’s election constituted “an enormous threat, a huge risk to jobs, to growth, to the security and prosperity that all Australians deserve, and that my government is delivering”.

That the Prime Minister has dialled up his rhetoric so obviously suggests the contest remains close, despite a Fairfax-ReachTEL poll showing the Liberals’ John Alexander was comfortably in front.

It is also telling that Mr Turnbull broke with the usual practice of leaving comment on labour market trends to his Employment Minister or Treasurer.

Two days out from that poll, these numbers were too good for any government to let slide, let alone a PM facing a potentially existential byelection. His intervention was thus a calculated attempt to get jobs on the front pages.

Which is why Mr Turnbull claimed the longest labour market expansion since 1994 to be a “direct result” of the Coalition’s stewardship.

“Sixty one thousand, six hundred jobs have been created in the last month alone, thats 2000 a day [and] 918,700 jobs, close to a million, have been created since the Coalition government was elected in 2013,” he said.

“You’ll all remember, we campaigned on jobs and growth, well it was a slogan then, but it is an outcome now.

“Our policies are restoring confidence to business, and business is responding by investing, creating more jobs, and hiring more workers.”

Some 61,600 jobs were created in November, 41,900 of which were full time positions.

Australia’s jobless rate now sits within half a percentage point of what the Reserve Bank usually categorises as functionally full employment.

But even as employers are hiring, the tightening labour market is putting surprisingly little upward pressure on wages with growth in pay packets still sluggish or non-existent.

While the government is preparing to unveil more economic news on Monday in its mid-year economic and fiscal outlook – expected to contain new positives like improved revenue projections supporting the budget’s 2020-21 surplus target – Mr Turnbull’s high-octane hard-politics presentation of the jobs data suggest he needs the credit from voters somewhat sooner. Certainly in Bennelong anyway.

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.