«The economy is OK — it’s back to about long-run average, but there has been a significant loss of momentum over the last six months in the private sector of the economy,» Mr Oster said.
The survey results suggested the economy was adding jobs at a rate of about 19,000 a month, slightly up on December but behind the pace for most of 2018.
«The labour market is still hanging in there,» Mr Oster said. «It’s enough to keep the labour market roughly where it was.»
Reserve Bank governor Philip Lowe last week said household expenditure and employment would be important influences on the bank’s next rate move.
«We will be monitoring developments in the labour market closely,» Dr Lowe said. «If Australians are finding jobs and their wages are rising more quickly, it is reasonable to expect that inflation will rise and that it will be appropriate to lift the cash rate at some point.»
Among the forward indicators, capacity utilisation fell in a worrying sign for future employment. Utilisation in the transport, retail, wholesale, finance and property sectors was below the five-year average.
But mining remains a bright spot, with utilisation at the top of the five-year range and overall business conditions well above those in other industries.
Falling house prices have battered economic conditions in the big eastern states despite large government infrastructure projects including WestConnex and the metro lines in Sydney, and rail crossing removal and road developments in Melbourne.
Mr Oster said those projects had not helped private sector economic conditions as much as forecasters had hoped.
«You previously would’ve hoped that some of that infrastructure would’ve spread over into private sector investment,» Mr Oster said. «And in this survey, private sector investment went down a bit.»