SYDNEY (Reuters) – Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison on Tuesday put jobs at the forefront of his election campaign, promising to create 1.3 million more over the next five years after his main rival fumbled questions about the unemployment rate.
Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese on Monday – on day one of the campaign – failed to answer to questions from reporters about Australia’s interest rates and jobless numbers in an election set to focus on wage growth and cost-of-living pressures.
“We’ve got the runs on the board and proven plans to deliver these … new jobs,” Morrison said in a statement. “Boosting jobs creation to the levels we saw even before the pandemic is key to our plan for a stronger economy.”
Two polls out on Monday showed Albanese’s centre-left Labor were ahead of the conservative Liberal-National Party coalition in an election to be held on May 21 even as they showed the prime minister extending his lead as the country’s preferred leader.
Morrison said “despite fires, floods, a pandemic, a global recession, economic coercion from China and now a war in Europe,” his government had driven the unemployment rate down to 13-year lows of 4%, from 5.7% when Labor left office in 2013.
The new jobs would be created “right across the economy,” Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said. “We are going to see more jobs being created,” he told Channel Seven.
Australia’s unemployment rate looks certain to fall into the 3% range for the first time since the early 1970s, several months ahead of central bank forecasts, with some economists predicting it could dip below the budget forecast of 3.75%.
Wage growth was also forecast to accelerate but not by enough to outpace inflation, meaning real incomes were set the shrink this year.
To pacify disgruntled voters, the budget in March increased a tax break for 10 million low and middle income earners and offered one-off cash payments for pensioners and a temporary cut in fuel taxes.
(Reporting by Renju Jose; Editing by Sam Holmes)