Canberra's public sector has recorded its lowest number of job vacancies since the early years of the Howard government, according to new figures from the Bureau of Statistics.

The bureau says the ACT experienced the nation's second-biggest drop in job vacancies in three months to November.

Only the Northern Territory saw a larger decline in employment opportunities in the quarter, according to the bureau's Job Vacancies, Australia, November 2012 report.

Chris Caton, chief economist for the BT Financial Group.

Chris Caton, chief economist for the BT Financial Group. Photo: Jim Rice

But as the Gillard Labor government continues to tighten its belt in an effort to minimise the size of the expected budget deficit, public service job vacancies in the ACT have plunged to their lowest level since 1998, reflecting fewer vacancies in the city's Commonwealth public sector.

The survey found just 800 jobs available in the public sector in Canberra in November, half the number of 12 months previously, although employment prospects with private firms were better, with the sector looking to hire about 3100 workers.

Nationally, there were only 166,000 vacant jobs in November, down from 193,000 two years earlier. More than 600,000 Australians were looking for work.

The most dramatic slide has been in public sector vacancies. There were just 12,300 government or semi-government jobs on offer, down from 17,500 a year earlier.

Recently elected state governments have also cut public service employment to long-term lows. There were just 3100 public vacancies in NSW - the fewest at that time of year since 1996. There were just 2900 in Victoria, the weakest since 2003 and just 2100 in Queensland, the weakest since 1999.

Queensland had 29 per cent fewer total vacancies than it had a year ago and 65 per cent fewer public service vacancies.

The results suggest the public sector will be closed to many of the graduates who traditionally find work at the beginning of each year, forcing them into the private sector or pushing up unemployment.

Private sector vacancies have slid 9 per cent in the past year. The biggest slides are in tourism, where there are 9100 fewer jobs on offer, transport, down 6800 jobs, and mining and manufacturing, each with 2000 fewer vacancies.

There are fewer manufacturing jobs on offer than at any time in the past decade.

The most recent National Australia Bank business confidence survey, released last month, showed business confidence at its weakest since 2009. More businesses planned to cut employment rather than increase it.

Separately released retail figures show weak spending before Christmas. Spending fell 0.1 per cent in November, disappointing economists who had expected a 0.3 per cent increase.

''There is no good news in either the retail spending or the vacancies data,'' said the BT Financial Group chief economist, Chris Caton. ''If the consumer is cheered by the interest rate cuts, she's still keeping it to herself.''

In Victoria there are 3.9 people competing for each vacant job, in NSW the figure is four, and in Queensland it is 4.3. In the ACT there are 2.1 unemployed people for each vacancy

The national unemployment rate has remained in a narrow band of 5 per cent to 5.4 per cent for two years. The government is forecasting only a small move beyond that band to 5.5 per cent by June. The figures will be updated next week.

with Glenda Kwek