I'd like to begin by thanking the member for Hawke for moving this important motion today. Wages growth under the Albanese government is working, and locals in my electorate are telling me that it is making a difference to their lives. I recently visited Torquay's aged-care workers at Villa Maria Catholic Homes Star of the Sea, who were celebrating a 15 per cent wage rise after the Fair Work Commission's much anticipated increase to award rates earlier this year.
It is here that I met Sarbjeet Kaur, a generous-hearted young woman who simply wants to give back to her community. That's why she grasped fee-free TAFE with both hands, completing an aged-care course at Gordon TAFE. She now works in my electorate of Corangamite. Sarbjeet told me she believed the wage rise was helpful and would attract others to the profession. It's not an easy job, and their wages have been too low for too long. Sarbjeet also said fee-free TAFE has helped her to get the job that she truly cares about. She said:
I really enjoy this job. Sometimes I feel like crying when I see the residents. We are here for them. We care for them. We try to give everything for them.
These words are heartfelt.
The Albanese government recognises that better wages mean a better life. We also recognise that a wage incentive will encourage more Australians to train and work in sectors such as aged care, where we need more carers—more carers like Sarbjeet. That's why our government and the Minister for Aged Care have acted, with a significant 15 per cent wage increase for aged-care workers.
From meeting with workers and residents at Torquay, I was pleased to hear the government's reforms had been embraced by local workers and businesses. The staff are doing amazing work on the Surf Coast. Star of the Sea's acting CEO, David Williamson, expressed his support for the government's reforms, noting the pay rise was recognition of the important work of nurses and care staff. He was hopeful the boost would attract more workers to his organisation, given the current sector-wide workforce shortage challenges.
When it comes to wages growth, we are working for Australia across a number of fronts. The Albanese government has delivered the first budget surplus in 15 years and seen wages grow at the fastest rate in a decade, with over 561,000 jobs created since we came to office—an impressive record for a new government.
I know families in my electorate of Corangamite and across the country are being hit hard by the cost of living. Therefore, the Albanese government's No. 1 priority remains addressing this inflation and cost-of-living challenge. We have targeted a comprehensive $23 billion plan to help address the pressures in the economy. This includes cheaper medicines, fee-free TAFE, electricity bill relief, the boosting of income support payments, cheaper childcare, increased rent assistance, more Medicare bulk-billing, the expansion of paid parental leave, the boosting of income support payments and more affordable homes being built.
On top of this, we've successfully advocated for wage increases for minimum and award-wage workers, and we're funding pay rises for aged-care workers. Recent results show the unemployment rate remained around historic lows, at 3.6 per cent, and the participation rate was 66.7 per cent, near the record high recorded recently.
While we welcome these results, we are realistic about the challenges ahead. While our labour force remains resilient, high interest rates, high but moderating inflation and growing uncertainty in the global economy are still having an impact on our economy. Rate rises are clearly biting hard, consumption is slowing, retail turnover is soft, and households and businesses are feeling that pressure. That is why our primary focus is on the cost of living, doing all we can to reduce its impact while also laying the foundations for a stronger economy, and building a more dynamic and inclusive labour market.