Rebooting the economy, state by state: CommSec's Craig James

Rebooting the economy, state by state: CommSec's Craig James
Rebooting the economy, state by state: CommSec's Craig James


The National Cabinet will meet on Friday and top of the agenda will be plans to re-open the economy after a period of hibernation.

¾ Stimulus and support measures: Federal, state and territory governments and the Reserve Bank have outlined measures totalling over $340 billion or 17 per cent of GDP. The Addendum updates the previous list that was issued on April 20.

Government decisions on easing lockdown restrictions have implications for all sectors.

What does it all mean?

Australia has made good progress at stopping the spread of the COVID-19 virus. Now consideration turns to re-opening the economy. The health risks are easing but the economic risks are rising. So it is a case of finding some balance.

But just like when Microsoft Windows closes unexpectedly on your PC, the rebooting of the economy will be in ‘safe’ mode (COVIDSafe mode if you like). Open up too quickly and you risk repeating mistakes made in other countries that attempted to return to ‘normal’ too quickly.

National Cabinet will review the case for an easing of restrictions on Friday. National Cabinet has outlined conditions to be met before the economy can be rebooted.

The COVID-19 cases may lift again when the economy re-starts, but the aim is to keep the process manageable. Certainly the facilities and procedures are now in place to deal with any modest lift in cases.

The re-start timetable will vary across states and territories. The number of active cases is near zero in Northern Territory, ACT and South Australia. NSW, Victoria and Queensland have a bit further to go. But importantly there is no single road map to follow.

The cost of the virus crisis has been huge. Federal Treasury estimates it is costing the nation $4 billion a week. Treasury and the Reserve Bank tip a 10 per cent contraction of the economy in the first half of 2020. Output could slide 6 per cent in 2020 before lifting 6 per cent in 2021.

The impact on the job market is more worrisome. The jobless rate will peak near 10 per cent in coming months but will only fall to 7 per cent in just over 18 months’ time.

What businesses or industries return first?

Guidelines for COVIDsafe workplaces and activities are already available. And the information and guidelines will be expanded over time.

In the transition to lockdown, there were limits imposed on groups of more than 500 people, and then this was tightened to groups of 10 and then to groups of 2 (numbers varied across states and territories). In the re-start phase, there is likely to be a step back. Social distancing will remain a feature for an extended period. The 4 square metre per person guideline will likely be enforced.

Retailers that marketed goods considered ‘non-essential’ – covering areas like clothing, discount department stores, car dealers – have potential to re-open first. These may be stores that closed voluntarily or were mandated to close.

“White-collar” workers will also return to their offices in mid-to-late May with likely enforcement on staggered work hours and enforcement on social distancing.

A freeing up on travel within states and territories is also likely in the early reboot phase, benefitting regional areas, especially tourism-focussed businesses. Overseas travel (perhaps with the exception of New Zealand) will be amongst the last to re-start.

The Prime Minister has expressed a wish that cafes, restaurants and clubs can re-open relatively soon, no doubt with significant limits and guidelines. But re-opening is not expected until late May/June.

Note that the Northern Territory Government announced that “Stage two activities can commence from noon, Friday 15 May, and include indoor activities for less than two hours, such as:

- Shopping centre food courts.

- Restaurants, cafes, and bars for the consumption of food – excluding gaming areas.

- Organised outdoor training activities for sport teams without physical contact.

- Beauty therapy salons for non-facial services such as nails, massage and tanning.

- Gymnasium.

- Public libraries.

- Places used for religious worship – including indoor weddings and funerals.”

NSW, Victoria and Queensland make take longer to re-open these businesses, given their relatively large population sizes.

Many parts of construction, mining and manufacturing have continued to operate over the past six weeks. But greater ‘normality’ will return over May. In particular, fast tracking of infrastructure projects will be important for each of those industries in the recovery phase.

What has each state and economy announced so far?

On April 28, the Premier announced the following: “From Friday, 1 May up to two adults and their dependent children will be allowed to visit another household.

We will see a return of face-to-face teaching from 11 May, and then will consider accelerating a full return to school as soon as possible.

There have never been restrictions in NSW on what people can and cannot buy, however there may be increased retail activity, with some businesses choosing to re-open. It is important these shops maintain social distancing and hygiene requirements.”

The full list of the current rules is here:

On May 3, the Treasurer said agents and vendors able to hold traditional property inspections and on-site auctions from May 9.


On May 1, Premier Daniel Andrews said:

“The more tests we can get done in the lead-up to 11 May, the more options we will have to potentially ease some of the rules,” he said.

“If we are going to change those settings, then we need to be really clear on how much virus is out there in the Victorian community that we didn’t previously know about.”

Mr Andrews is aiming to complete 100,000 COVID-19 tests before May 11 to allow an easing of restrictions. 


On April 26 Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk announced:

“From 11.59pm Friday, May 1, Queenslanders will be able to leave their homes for recreation and the distance they can travel has been extended.

For example, Queenslanders will be able to enjoy some relief from stay-at-home rules and:

On May 1 Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk cleared the way for the NRL season to resume on May 28th, dependent on Chief Health Officer advice that the league’s plan is workable, and the NRL’s assurance that players won’t break restrictions. The Premier said the decision gives clubs permission to travel across the Queensland border to play because they are working and because they are in quarantine. The Premier also said work was being done on other issues such as dining out.

On May 4, the Premier announced plans for schools

- May 11: Kindy, Prep, Years 1, 11 and 12 return to learning at school

-  May 15: Assess state-wide response to easing of restrictions

-  May 25: Proposed re-opening to remaining students in remaining grades

On May 5 the Premier issued a media release noting that “Planning continues for the resumption of hospitality and tourism business activity.”

South Australia

On April 27 schools opened for Term 2 on the advice of the Chief Medical Officer.

On May 3 Premier Steven Marshall announced:

“To guide the delicate process of both continuing to move out of the COVID-19 health emergency and restore the social and economic health of the State, the Marshall Government has established a broad high-level transition team.

While maintaining the vigilance of our public health response, the highly credentialed Transition Committee will look at which restrictions should be eased and in what order, as we take the next steps to return the State’s economy and community way of life to the new normal.”

Western Australia

On April 26 Premier Mark McGowan and Health Minister Roger Cook announced an easing of restrictions:

- “Indoor and outdoor gatherings for up to 10 people will be allowed including weddings, outdoor personal training, and open house or display village inspections

- Easing of some of WA's stage 3 restrictions effective Monday, April 27 2020

- Allows families and friends to interact more freely, with good social distancing

- Schools opened for Term 2 on the advice of the Chief Medical Officer.”

“The changes, based on health advice, will mean indoor and outdoor non-work gatherings will be relaxed to enable for up to 10 persons, lifted from the two person only limit, following continued low number of new cases and the encouraging response to COVID-19 in WA.” “The new 10-person rule aligns WA with South Australia.”


On May 1, Premier Peter Gutwein announced Additional North West COVID-19 measures to be lifted: “I am pleased to announce that the additional North West COVID-19 safety measures will be lifted from 12.00am this Monday, 4th May.”

The Premier said at the same time “The Government will make decisions about statewide restrictions in the lead up to 15th May.”


On May 1 Chief Minister Andrew Barr announced:

“…reasons for Canberrans to be outside their family home will be broadened from this weekend, allowing Canberrans to leave their home for non-essential shopping purposes.

This measure will support retail stores as they re-open (whilst maintaining appropriate physical distancing inside their stores). Many retailers voluntarily closed their doors to support community efforts to suppress the virus. Soon many will re-open and the community is encouraged to support them whilst maintaining physical distancing.

Restrictions on gatherings inside the family home will be relaxed to allow families to visit each other with two adults plus children able to visit outside of those who ordinarily live in a property.

With travel restrictions eased in NSW, Canberrans should only travel outside of the Canberra region to visit family and friends in small groups while maintaining physical distancing. As much as possible, travel outside of the Canberra region should be carefully considered, as someone bringing the virus into the Territory from interstate remains one of the biggest threats to the ACT.”

On schools, the Chief Minister said “we are preparing to move to face-to-face delivery during Term 2 if the circumstances allow us to do that sensibly.”

Northern Territory

On April 27 Chief Minister Michael Gunner announced:

The Northern Territory Government will begin re-opening some parks from Noon on Friday 1 May.

The Chief Minister outlined a transition to a “new normal”:

This transition has three parts:

- Controlling the borders: to keep the Territory safe and to stop coronavirus from spreading, our borders will stay secured.

- Rapid response: a “test, trace and trap” plan to contain any future outbreak, minimising the risk to the community.

- The new normal: Territorians enjoying their lives while also adhering to social distancing, cleaning and hygiene protocols.”

On April 30 the Chief Minister outlined “The Territory’s Roadmap to the New Normal” (

From 1 May, Stage One adjustments will commence. Stage two activities can commence from noon, Friday 15 May. And from noon, Friday 5 June, restrictions will be eased on further indoor activities. By 5 June all Territory businesses, services, facilities and organisations should have their own COVID-19 Safety Plan.

On May 5 Chief Minister Michael Gunner announced:

“The COVID-19 safety plan checklist for businesses and organisations as part of the Roadmap to the New Normal is now available.

Businesses and organisations seeking to re-open or expand operations as part of stage two of the Roadmap can begin submitting their checklist from today, ahead of opening on 15th May.”

What are the implications for investors?

The focus now shifts from containment and suppression of the virus to rebooting the economy. The process will understandably be long and staggered. The process may differ across states and territories. The process is not without risks. But the price of delaying the reboot too long is getting higher.

Governments now have the processes and infrastructure in place to deal with any lift in the number of virus cases. Businesses may need information on what constitutes a new acceleration phase for cases, so they can stay on top. A reacceleration of cases could prompt a reimposition of lockdown measures or a tightening of rules and regulations.

Investors will need to particularly stay on top of daily information of virus news to gauge implications for companies, sectors and the broader market.

CRAIG JAMES is the Chief Economist at CommSec

Craig James

Craig James

Craig James is the Chief Economist at CommSec, interpreting ‘big picture’ economic and financial trends.

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