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Weak jobs - the next big risk for Australia?

Australia is set to lose 50,000 to 75,000 jobs over the next couple of years as slowing mining investment hinders economic growth, Australia New Zealand Banking (ANZ) warned.

A shift from labor-intensive investment to a production and export-focused operational phase is at hand as Australia's mining boom enters its third phase, Justin Fabo, economist at ANZ said on CNBC's "The Rundown".

This operational phase requires fewer employees and will see job cuts that extend beyond mining to related industries including construction, transport and manufacturing.

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"One of the key things is that the underlying amount of jobs generation is still on the soft side so if you're losing 50,000 to 75,000 jobs, that's going to be a headwind to total jobs growth," Fabo said.

While the resources sector only employs around 2 percent of Australia's workforce, related industries constitute another 8 percent.

Australia's labor market is on shaky footing. Data last week showed the unemployment rate rose to a decade-high of 6 percent in June.

In the chart below, ANZ illustrates the strong correlation between resource investment and jobs.

By 2016, ANZ expects resource investment in Australia to drop to 4 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) from 7.5 percent in 2013 and anticipates similar declines in employment.

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The expected job loss will hit household spending, which contributes over 50 percent of GDP.

"People coming out of the mining sector are usually well paid so if they lose their jobs, the amount of money the overall household sector has to spend won't be the same, which will be another headwind for the economy," Fabo explained.

Weaker-than-expected commodity prices could exacerbate job cuts as firms seek to cut costs.

Counter balance

Still, not everyone is concerned.

Ian Waldie | Bloomberg | Getty Images

In a report on Friday, Paul Boxham, chief economist for Australia and New Zealand at HSBC said rising exports in the resource industry's operational phase will offset declining investment.

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"The recent ramp-up in iron ore and coal export volumes to record highs support the idea that the capital that has been built is mostly well-targeted. This is particularly the case for liquefied natural gas export capacity, which constitutes the bulk of the investment in recent years. When these plants become operational, from late 2015 onwards, LNG (liquefied natural gas) exports will make a significant contribution to overall GDP growth in Australia," he said.

Furthermore, a solid first-quarter GDP reading and rising domestic demand in the non-mining sector underscore a slow rebalancing of growth away from mining, he said.

Despite fewer resources jobs, he said improving conditions outside of the sector are boosting employment growth, with health care, construction and social services leading the way.

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ANZ's prediction means Australia will need to create at least 150,000 jobs to prevent the jobless rate from spiking. Fabo is optimistic that other sectors, especially healthcare, will pick up the slack, ensuring that the current unemployment rate remains unchanged for another 12 to 18 months.

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