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Territory hits 11-year high for jobless rate

Date

Hamish Boland-rudder

HSBC Australia chief economist Paul Bloxham.

HSBC Australia chief economist Paul Bloxham. Photo: Edwina Pickles

The ACT's jobless rate has jumped to its highest level in more than 11 years, as 3000 more people were listed as unemployed in the territory in January.

Strong growth in the number of new part-time jobs helped to keep the national unemployment rate steady in January, offsetting a recent run of weak reports on the Australian economy.

But the capital's unemployment rate now sits at 4.5 per cent in trend terms, after the December figures were revised up from 4.2 per cent to 4.4 per cent. The January figure is a jump of 0.9 points from January last year.

The last time the ACT unemployment level hit 4.5 per cent was in October 2001.

The new data puts ACT behind the Northern Territory and Western Australia, which recorded the lowest rates respectively.

ACT Treasurer Andrew Barr said the rise in the capital's jobless rate was expected after spending cuts in the Australian Public Service.

"That's not surprising given what was forecast in the Commonwealth budget. We anticipated, in fact, there would be no employment growth in the territory in this financial year.

These figures actually show there has been some growth, which is encouraging,'' he said.

While the private sector appeared to be marginally increasing employment in the territory, Mr Barr said the Commonwealth's efficiency dividend was hitting the public sector hard.

"That is, as we anticipated, having an impact on the labour market here in the ACT," he said.

"Our economy is delivering new jobs, but perhaps not quite as many as was the case before, and the reason for that is the Commonwealth, being half the labour market in the ACT, they're contracting. Our population is still growing at nearly 2 per cent a year, and the rate of jobs growth is not keeping pace with that."

The national jobless rate stayed flat at 5.4 per cent for January, beating economists' expectations of a slight rise to 5.5 per cent, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics. The economy lost 9800 full-time jobs but added 20,200 part-time positions, taking the net gain to 10,400.

The participation rate - the percentage of people either in work or looking for work - fell from 65.1 per cent to 65.0 per cent, helping to keep a lid on the overall unemployment rate.

The dollar initially rallied on the release of the data, touching an intraday high of $US1.0331, before losing all of the gain. It fell to $US1.0299 before recovering to $US1.031.

HSBC Australia chief economist Paul Bloxham said the figures showed the labour market was more resilient than many believed.

''We remain of the view that policy setting and global conditions are conducive for a pick-up in local growth, so the steady jobs market is consistent with that view,'' Mr Bloxham said.

Analysts suspect the jobless rate will continue to creep higher given sluggish domestic demand and the competitive pressures of a historically high currency.

Unemployment in NSW remained steady at 5.1 per cent. Victoria, however, experienced a big rise, from 5.6 per cent to 6.1 per cent. Queensland fell from 6.1 per cent in December to 5.5 per cent. South Australia's rate climbed from 5.8 per cent to 6.1 per cent, WA's fell from 4.3 per cent to 4 per cent and Tasmania's rose from 7.4 per cent to 7.8 per cent.

with Glenda Kwek, BusinessDay, wires

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