The highest unemployment figure in a decade has sparked a debate in parliament over job creation.
Prime Minister Tony Abbott says Labor is standing in the way of jobs being created, as the unemployment rate rose to its highest level in a decade.
As the first week of parliament wrapped up in Canberra, the federal government received mixed news on the jobs front.
The Victorian government shored up hundreds of jobs at SPC Ardmona’s fruit and vegetable processing plant by investing $22 million, in the wake of Mr Abbott saying no to $25 million of federal money for the company.
But the decision was soured by the rise in national unemployment to six per cent for January and the announcement by mining construction firm Forge of the retrenchment of 1300 employees in WA and Queensland.
Mr Abbott was questioned in parliament over how the government planned to fulfil its election promise of one million jobs created over five years, when one job was being lost in Australia every three minutes since the 2013 election.
The prime minister said he regretted that the jobless rate was “edging up”.
But he noted 200,000 people had lost their jobs under the previous Labor government, which put in place job-destroying policies such as the carbon and mining taxes and regulations.
“I say to Labor members – you created the problem, this government is fixing the problem and you should stop obstructing the fix,” Mr Abbott told parliament.
Opposition Leader Bill Shorten said he did not hold the government totally responsible for job losses.
“But what I do hold the government responsible for is they do not have an inch of fight in them,” he said.
The Labor leader said the coalition did not understand the value of innovative manufacturing and had stood by as 71,000 full-time jobs disappeared since the election.
“We need to be a nation that builds things. The vision of this government is that we should go back to being a farm and a quarry.”
Mr Abbott said he was delighted with the announcement that SPC Ardmona would continue without the need for federal assistance.
“I want to thank all the people … on this side of the house who have been wishing well this great institution,” he said.
“We said SPC Ardmona had a good future and it does. We said that it didn’t need $25 million from the commonwealth and it doesn’t.”
Construction Forestry Mining and Energy Union national secretary Michael O’Connor said jobs could be created by stopping the unfair dumping of imported goods onto the Australian market.
As well, government agencies should be buying more Australian products, investing in trade training and co-investing in manufacturing.
“Australian workers need to see strong leadership,” he said.