NSW Chief Economist says estimate of state’s lockdown cost is a government secret

Anton NilssonNCA NewsWire
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Camera IconNot Supplied Credit: News Corp Australia

The NSW lockdown has cost the state billions of dollars – but the exact estimate can’t be told publicly because it is a government secret, a senior Treasury bureaucrat has said.

NSW Chief Economist Stephen Walters told a parliamentary inquiry he had provided a calculation of the cost to the government, but said he wasn’t able to state that figure publicly because it was “cabinet in confidence”.

However Mr Walters indicated the figure could be as high as $16 billion.

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Camera IconNSW has been under tough restrictions for nearly 14 weeks. NCA NewsWire / Flavio Brancaleone Credit: News Corp Australia

“The weekly cost changes – the advice we’re giving to government on the actual number is cabinet in confidence, because the restriction levels change,” Mr Walters told the inquiry into the government’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic.

It prompted committee chair and Greens MP David Shoebridge to ask: “You can't tell me it’s a government secret, what the actual cost to the NSW economy has been – you’re not seriously telling me that’s a government secret?”

“I am telling you it’s cabinet in confidence,” Mr Walters replied.

Mr Walters said that Treasurer Dominic Perrottet had previously indicated the weekly cost of the lockdown was $1.3 billion.

He said that was the “latest information” that was publicly available.

At the weekend, the Sydney lockdown will enter its 14th week, meaning the accumulated cost could already be as high as $16.9 billion.

However, because new restrictions have been implemented, and others loosened, as the lockdown has dragged on, the cost would vary from week to week.

Mr Shoebridge asked: “So something in the order of $15 billion is a ballpark figure of the cost to date, is that right?”

“That’s the figure that’s been quoted by other economists,” Mr Walters responded.

He went on to say that while he couldn't state his own calculations publicly, “other economists” had said the cost is around “$15 to 16 billion”.

Labor’s treasury spokesman Daniel Mookhey said the government should be more transparent.

“The government has no need to treat the cost of lockdown like it’s a state secret,” he told NCA Newswire.

“They should trust the public with this information so we can have a considered debate about how to bring back the 210,000 jobs lost in the last 13 weeks.”

Originally published as NSW Chief Economist says estimate of state’s lockdown cost is a government secret

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