Reality check: Enjoy the moment because risks lie ahead for the Lucky Country

The GDP figures have given Australia hope and optimism about the recovery from what has been an economic catastrophe. And, if the economists are right, the December quarter GDP will be even better.

Dec 03, 2020, updated Dec 03, 2020
Jobless figures have slipped a little higher this month.. (File image).

Jobless figures have slipped a little higher this month.. (File image).

But within all the hype of an economic comeback is a fair bit of illusion.

At the moment, the public is probably looking at the growth in the ASX and property market and starting to feel like we are wealthy again, that the COVID recession was an aberration and we are back to being the Lucky Country.

But the ASX is driven by risk and reward, or in emotional terms, fear and greed. The property market can be just as irrational and at the moment is benefitting from a few temporary factors that seem to ignore reality.

Put simply, neither are the real economy.

Australians have a right to be happy about where we are, and Queensland in particular, because there are few places in the world that have what we have. Much of the economic success can be attributed to the health outcomes.

But the public should be aware of what’s lurking in the shadows.

Debt: This is a huge issue. Debt will grow to $130 billion over four years. The Palaszczuk Government had little choice but to pin its ears back and plunge in, but it is going to hurt the future. Queensland’s general government sector interest repayments will reach almost $2 billion a year in 2023-24. That’s effectively wiping out the benefit of the royalties from coal, land and LNG.

There are three ways of reducing debt: inflation, asset sales and growth and none are likely to help in the short to medium term.

Unemployment: This is where Australia will feel the lasting pain of the recession we just crawled out of.

In March, the Federal Government’s extraordinarily successful stimulus measures will be unwound and the veil over the ugly parts of the economy will be lifted.

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Small business payrolls are still 6 per cent below where they were in March. This is important because Queensland is driven by small business. Those businesses will soon have to deal with the end of job support funding and the end of the payroll tax holiday.

As economist Pete Faulkner points out, any recovery in the jobs market is being driven by the regions, not the southeast, which is important.

“While employment across Queensland now sits 0.9 per cent above the level of a year ago, in Greater Brisbane it is still 0.2 per cent below while in the Rest of Queensland it is now up 1.8 per cent with 22,800 more in employment than at the same time last year,’’ Faulkner said.

“Before we get too excited about this outcome we should note that all the increase has come from part-time positions with full-time employment still down more than 25,000 across the State (and down 13,000 in the regions).

“Nevertheless, this is a clearly better outcome than has been witnessed across the nation where second-waves and lockdowns have negatively impacted on economies far more harshly than in Queensland.’’

Domestic economy (excluding exports): The surprise from the GDP figures was Queensland’s outperformance of 6.8 per cent growth. A lot of this is consumer spending, which is a response to all the stimulus cash washing around.

But while the September quarter results were driven by the private sector, much of Queensland’s growth over recent years is down to the public sector.

Faulkner again: “The total private sector is still 1.2 per cent below the level seen two years ago while the Public sector (which is equal to approximately 40 per cent of the Private sector), over the same period, has increased by 12.7 per cent.’’

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