The federal government and Labor opposition were quick to downplay another set of solid jobs figures, which saw unemployment unexpectedly fall.
Jobless numbers falling by 20,000 in a month is a good result in most people’s language.
But not for our politicians.
Federal Labor, the party supposedly representing workers, is wringing its hands about the prospect of mass job losses flagged by high-profile employers such as Qantas, Holden and Toyota.
Even Employment Minister Eric Abetz, who had cause for a little celebration, was urging caution about the latest data showing the unemployment rate dropping to 5.8 per cent in March from a decade-high of 6.1 per cent in February.
It was left to economics adviser Stephen Koukoulas to spruik a result that was a surprise to him and other economists.
“It’s great news,” he told Sky News, citing the pick-up in jobs during the past two months.
The number of people in employment rose by 18,100 in March, building on the exceptionally strong 48,200 increase in the previous month.
Full-time employment fell 22,100 in the month, but part-time jobs were up 40,200.
Economists are now chattering about the jobs market having turned a corner and the possibility that unemployment may have already peaked.
However, it also raises the prospect of an interest rate hike by the end of the year if this new positive trend continues.
Commonwealth Securities economist Savanth Sebastian says the jobs market is showing signs of stabilising and reflecting the recent solid lift in economic activity.
“There is no question that the economy has lifted,” he said.
It was pretty clear the transition in activity from mining to housing construction had been a case of “so far so good”.
Senator Abetz cautioned against reading too much into one month’s numbers.
That’s because the number of people looking for work declined.
“We need to continue to push ahead with our job-creating policies,” he said, citing government legislation abolishing the carbon and mining taxes, reduction of red tape and re-establishment of the Australian Building and Construction Commission which is being held up in the Senate.
Senator Abetz believes the measures will create the environment for business to take on more people as well as encourage greater participation in the job market.
The downside of an improving employment picture is the possibility the Reserve Bank could move away from its “interest rate stability” rhetoric and bring forward the timing of a rate increase.
CommSec is expecting a rate rise in the final three months of the year.