* Australian shares close higher for 3rd straight session
* New Zealand benchmark finishes at record high (Updates to close)
March 12 (Reuters) - Australian shares rose on Monday as a firm U.S. jobs data report boosted global investor sentiment while material stocks finished strong on news that Australia could be exempted from new U.S. trade tariffs on steel and aluminium imports.
The S&P/ASX 200 index rose 0.6 percent, or 32.90 points, to 5,996.10 at the close of trade, its highest since Feb. 28. The benchmark rose 0.3 percent on Friday.
The U.S. economy added the biggest number of jobs in over 1-1/2 years in February, data showed, but a slowdown in wage growth pointed to only a gradual increase in inflation this year, which potentially reduces chances of a faster pace of rate hikes by the Federal Reserve.
Sentiment was bolstered when U.S. President Donald Trump said that he was working on a deal so Australia would be exempt from the tariffs that had roiled markets worldwide.
Metals and mining stocks led the gains, with their subindex finishing the day 1.4 percent higher, helped by a recovery in base metal prices.
Giant BHP Billiton, the largest miner on the index by market capitalisation, rose 2.1 percent while Rio Tinto climbed 2.3 percent to its highest close since March 8.
Gold miner Newcrest mining was the biggest drag on the index, ending the day 4.6 percent lower, its lowest in seven months.
Newcrest said on Monday its fiscal 2018 guidance would be adversely affected by the closure of its flagship mine following damage to a tailings dam wall.
New Zealand shares ended Monday’s session at a record high, led by consumer stocks.
The benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index rose 0.9 percent or 73.98 points to finish at 8,463.99.
A2 Milk ended about 4.7 percent higher and served as the biggest boost on the benchmark, while Heartland Bank Ltd ended down 2.7 percent. (Reporting by Chandini Monnappa in Bengaluru; Editing by Richard Borsuk)