The jobless rate has unexpectedly jumped to 5.9 per cent, its highest level in just over a year, as the economy shed 6400 jobs in February.
Economists had tipped Thursday's labour force figures to show the unemployment rate remaining at 5.7 per cent, and an employment rise of just under 20,000.
There was some positive news, with a 27,100 rise in full-time employment after a steep drop the previous month, although this was wiped out by a 33,500 tumble in part-time workers.
The shift to part-time work in the past year saw the underemployment rate - people looking for extra work - returning to a record high 8.7 per cent or 1.1 million workers.
Meanwhile, another report forecast an improved employment outlook.
Detail in the Westpac-Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry industrial trends survey showed fundamentals are pointing to employment growth of two per cent or slightly higher in 2017.
"If that is achieved it would be a significant turnaround from last year when jobs growth was a little bit less than one per cent," Westpac senior economist Andrew Hanlan told reporters in Canberra.
© AAP 2017 Image Credit: AAP Image/Julian Smith