The Distillery: Labour day

Jotters examine the latest jobs numbers with one saying they show the worst isn't behind us.

The labour market is in the spotlight as the latest jobs numbers are released from the Australian Bureau of Statistics. One commentator finds good and bad in what has been a relatively consistent piece of data all year, while another outlines the task ahead of the new government to revive a weak marketplace.

Speaking of the Abbott government, one jotter sees business already becoming a little restless with the softly, softly approach of Canberra, while another scribe argues there is potential for reform of ASIC after scandals at Leighton and the RBA.  

Starting with the jobs data, Fairfax’s Michael Pascoe says it’s nice to have consistency in the unemployment numbers, but it would be better if that stability was at a lower base.

“The bad news is that the labour market has been stagnant now for five months. On the trend count, the nation has added just 600 jobs since April. The relatively good news is that the unemployment rate also has been pretty stable. The trend unemployment rate for September is 5.7 per cent – the fourth month in a row to print at that figure, although the August score was revised down today from 5.8.”

The Australian’s David Uren adds that the numbers show the worst isn’t behind us, leaving the Coalition with a soft jobs market to fix.

“Although Treasury anticipated the weak state of the labour force, forecasting before the election that the jobless rate would hit 6.25 per cent by the middle of next year, the latest survey underlines the economic challenge ahead of the new government.”

It is a challenge the Coalition will approach without much urgency, if criticisms from eminent director David Crawford are on the mark. The Australian Financial Review’s Chanticleer columnist, Tony Boyd, explains that there are two ways to read Crawford’s comments on the Coalition’s slow and steady method to microeconomic reform.

“On the one hand it shows a refreshing willingness by business to be straight up with politicians about busting the complacency that comes with 20 years of uninterrupted economic growth,” he says. “Another way of looking at Crawford’s call to action is that there is simmering frustration among business leaders about the softly softly approach of the Abbott government.”

The Coalition also needs to take action on watchdog reform, specifically at ASIC, according to Fairfax’s Malcolm Maiden. The regulator has been taken to task for its perceived slow reaction to the RBA Securency scandal and recent bribery allegations levelled at Leighton, with Maiden suggesting Treasurer Joe Hockey’s financial system review is just the ticket for change.

“ASIC could change its funding base and potentially ramp it up by replacing direct government funding with the industry levy model that financially underpins its sister regulator, APRA, for example. Inside ASIC there has also been discussion about an internal split that would set the revenue-generating corporate registries up as a separately managed business, leaving ASIC itself more tightly focused on corporate, market and finance industry supervision and enforcement… Twin peaks should endure, but options for change exist.”

While Maiden takes a broad view of the Leighton problems and what it means for regulation, The Australian’s Damon Kitney mulls the impact on the big players at the construction group. Specifically, Kitney considers the damage to Wal King’s reputation, who, with a non-complete clause nearing its end, had many irons in the fire for a new career.

“That fire has, in the space of seven days, become a deep freeze. Even if King does pursue legal action as he is threatening in an attempt to restore his reputation, it will take a long time to get through the courts. In the meantime, King will be afraid the mud will stick.”

Elsewhere, the AFR’s Matthew Stevens discovers a CSG plan more friendly for all parties, while The Australian’s Adam Creightontries to understand what compelled Washington politicians to force a government shutdown.

Finally, Fairfax’s Michael West investigates the fascinating, and worrying, story behind a mysterious Australian company’s winning bid to build Jamaica’s next power station.

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