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Flatten the curve, yes, but also flatten the economic impact

18 Mar 2020

Throughout 2019 providing relief for regional NSW in the face one of the worst droughts on record was paramount.

This was an economic challenge but something every Australian understood – we are the land of droughts and flooding rains after all.

Nobody could have predicted what was coming.

The bushfires destroyed summer and shocked our nation with their size and ferocity. And now a pandemic, a veritable Ides of March, has shaken the world.

A survey conducted this week found Australians placed health as their number one concern in the face COVID-19 outbreak, with the economy and job security a close second.

It is clear this is the time for a compassionate, common-sense and strong approach.

Just as our government has been able to commit resources to alleviate drought stress and beef-up our firefighting efforts in the face of bushfires, we are drawing on the same store of financial strength to safeguard community health, sustain jobs through the COVID-19 outbreak, and put us in a position to bounce back as quickly as possible.

That’s what the $2.3 billion package we announced this week is designed to do.

Health is number one, because a government’s first priority must always be protecting people. A $700 million injection will help prevent the spread of COVID-19, and bolster our world-class health system’s resources in handling increased demand.

We also devoted $1.6 billion to protecting and creating jobs, including payroll tax cuts, and funding to bring forward infrastructure and maintenance, and to hire more cleaning staff for public assets.

There has been much talk of flattening the COVID-19 infection curve this week, but as Harvard Professor of Economics, Stefanie Stantcheva recently commented, flattening the economic impact is also important.

At the same time as ensuring we take every precaution to limit the spread of the virus, we need to keep NSW going to the extent that is possible, so that our people are able to bounce back once the worst of the virus has passed.

NSW has two key advantages in this task. First, our financial position is strong after successive years of surplus budgets, and now is exactly the time to deploy that strength to safeguard our people.

Secondly, we have a record $97 billion infrastructure pipeline underway – a vital economic core for our state.

The most recent national accounts showed public demand, which includes public investment, was the biggest contributor to NSW’s economic growth for the December 2019 quarter, in which NSW outperformed every other state.

Public investment is something we can control, and we will continue to invest to keep jobs secure (and create even more) at a time when many sectors are under pressure.

Looking ahead, both the Premier and I have said we will do whatever it takes to meet the evolving needs of our health system, cushion the impact for businesses and workers, and lay the foundations for recovery.

We are also making sure that what we do complements the Commonwealth’s efforts, and that we use our economic ammunition wisely rather than fire everything at once.

There is no playbook for the situation we all find ourselves in. What is clear is that now is the time for a generation to rise to our greatest challenge – our defining challenge – just as other generations before us have done.

I have every faith that the people of NSW – and across our nation – will endure this crisis with calm, common sense and courage, and together we will emerge even stronger than before.

| This piece was first published in The Daily Telegraph, 19 March 2020 |

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