Unemployment has hit 6%, the highest rate in a decade. With the bad news coming just days after Toyota announced its exit from Australian manufacturing, there is renewed pressure on the government to outline its plan for jobs.
Treasurer Joe Hockey has noticeably shifted his budget rhetoric, now focusing on growth rather than cost-cutting. The "no bail-outs, no hand-outs" line is also being rested this week as it becomes obvious that the government is preparing to offer assistance to drought-affected farmers and a debt guarantee to Qantas.
But beneath the tumult of the news cycle, the government has been distilling its central economic message. This barely needs summary: by scrapping the carbon and mining taxes and reducing red tape and union influence, the government will throw off the shackles for business – and growth will naturally follow.
In her column today, Laura Tingle writes that the Coalition "has not only managed to weather a series of bad news stories about manufacturing and the economy but actually used them to gain utter control over the industrial relations debate." She makes a strong point: whereas industrial relations was until recently "the debate that dared not speak its name as far as the Coalition was concerned", the government has now woven union influence into its narrative about what Australia needs to leave behind to boost growth and again become competitive.
Were unions – or, for that matter, over-regulation or the mining and carbon taxes – significant factors in the troubles of SPC Ardmona, Toyota, Holden and Qantas? This is a moot point for the Coalition. It has found a potent political message and some clearly defined enemies.
Whether or not this amounts to an economic plan is another thing entirely.
"The treasurer, Joe Hockey, has insisted the Abbott government’s existing economic plans, including the abolition of the carbon and mining taxes, are the answer to rising unemployment which has now hit 6%. But Hockey appeared to soften his previous cost-cutting rhetoric by signalling that the May budget would be "focused on growth"."
Also: Joe Hockey's rising tide strategy: will Australia sink or swim? (Lenore Taylor)
"The Federal Government last month rejected a $25 million assistance request from SPC parent company Coca-Cola Amatil, putting the jobs of at least 2,700 people in the Goulburn Valley in doubt. Victorian Premier Denis Napthine says his Government will contribute $22 million towards a $100 million investment in the company to transform and modernise its operations at Shepparton."
"Treasurer Joe Hockey has signalled the federal government is ready to throw a lifeline to Qantas in the form of a debt guarantee. The industry assistance goes against the instincts of the most influential group of Coalition ministers, who have just rejected pleas for help by Holden and fruit cannery SPC Ardmona. But there is now a ''grudging'' understanding among the Coalition's senior ranks that Qantas is unique and cannot be left to fail."
"State governments and consumer groups are accusing the Coalition of deliberately delaying “healthy star” food labelling until two state elections are held that could give opponents of the scheme the numbers to defeat it on the federal and state ministerial council responsible for its development."
"A long-awaited death notice for Australian car manufacturing and the highest rate of unemployment in more than a decade were two events that were always going to mark out this week as a profound turning point in our economic and political debate. But just as stunning has been the way the Abbott government has not only managed to weather a series of bad news stories about manufacturing and the economy but actually used them to gain utter control over the industrial relations debate."
Also: Advance Australia unfair (Tim Dunlop, The Drum)