Unemployment drops below 5%

THE Australian economy added 15,500 jobs in April as the unemployment rate unexpectedly dropped below 5%.

Australian Bureau of Statistics figures released on Thursday showed Australia's unemployment rate had dropped 0.2% to 4.9%.

Economists had been predicting a modest rise in unemployment for the month, and there are now doubts whether the Reserve Bank will cut the cash rate when it next meets on June 5.

The jobs figure could not have come at a better time for Julia Gillard's government, which has struggled to sell its budget this week after Fair Work Australia's report into the Health Services Union was made public on Monday.

A number of serious allegations about former Labor MP Craig Thomson are contained in the report, stemming from his time as national secretary of the HSU.

It is alleged Mr Thomson, who was suspended from the Labor caucus late last month, misused HSU members' funds on prostitutes and for his election campaign to win the NSW Central Coast seat of Dobell.

He continues to deny the allegations and will make a statement to the House of Representatives during parliament's next sitting week.

The Opposition asked a handful of budget-related questions on Thursday before spending the remainder of question time attacking the government over a News Limited report that revealed the NSW Labor Party had paid part of Mr Thomson's substantial legal bills arising from the FWA probe.

Ms Gillard batted away a series of questions on the issue, including whether anyone in her office was aware of the payments.

Manager of Opposition Business Christopher Pyne, not for the first time, brought question time to a premature halt in an unsuccessful bid to suspend standing orders so the Prime Minister could outline details of the arrangement between the NSW ALP and Mr Thomson.

"We are in a very murky area," Mr Pyne told the House.

He argued the NSW Labor Party had intervened to stop Mr Thomson from going bankrupt, which would preclude him from holding a seat in the parliament.

In his reply, a visibly agitated Anthony Albanese said the Opposition was more interested in "getting down in the gutter" than discussing the economy.

"On the day of the budget reply this is the priority of the Opposition," Mr Albanese said.

He again declared Mr Thomson was entitled to a presumption of innocence, and to make his point referred to Opposition Leader Tony Abbott's university days when he was charged, and later cleared, of indecent assault.

"This is the appropriate way we deal with these issues," Mr Albanese said.

The suspension motion was defeated, with key independents Tony Winsdor and Rob Oakeshott voting with the government.

Interestingly Tasmanian independent Andrew Wilkie, who tore up his agreement with the Gillard government over its decision to walk away from his proposed poker machine reform, supported the motion.

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