LABOR treasurer Paul Keating put his own twist on a bad set of national accounts in November 1990 by describing the results as "a recession that Australia had to have".
Mr Keating was famous for his pithy turn of phrase, but of all of the memorable words - many of them insults - that flew from that famous mouth, few have been as well remembered, or so frequently cited, as that short phrase.
Yesterday, it was the turn of Liberal Treasurer Josh Frydenberg to take to the podium, but the March quarter figures he was there to unpack were not his major concern.
Despite the start of the coronavirus pandemic, the summer bushfires and the tail end of the drought, the Australian Bureau of Statistics found the economy contracted by just 0.3 per cent in the first three months of 2020.
Indeed, Australia's performance in the March quarter compares very well to that seen in other nations with negative growth in China of 9.8 per cent, France 5.3 per cent, Germany 2.2 per cent, United Kingdom 2 per cent and the United States 1.3 per cent.Treasurer Josh Frydenberg
A recession is defined as consecutive quarters of negative gross domestic product (GDP) growth. in the final quarter of 2019 the economy grew by 0.5 per cent, so Australia is not yet, formally, in recession.
But as Mr Frydenberg acknowledged yesterday, the results for the June quarter, whatever the final numbers, will reveal negative economic growth, and quite substantially so. The consensus estimate for the next set of figures is minus 8.5 per cent, a huge contraction in any language.
But if the Keating recession was the one he reckoned we had to have, the present recession is the one we were never going to be able to avoid.
Only it won't be known as the Frydenberg recession, but as the COVID-19 or coronavirus recession, for obvious and accurate reasons.
The extent of the downturn will become formally clear with the June quarter figures, usually available in early September.
The value of many ABS measures lies not so much with the point-in-time figures, but the trends they reveal when strung together.
Yesterday's national accounts carried a note saying the ABS had suspended "trend estimates" from the June 2019 quarter onward because COVID's impact would render them "misleading".
Due to the impacts of COVID-19 on the economy, trend estimates for all series in the National Accounts have been suspended from June 2019 (inclusive). If trend estimates were to be calculated without fully accounting for this unusual event, they would likely provide a misleading view of the underlying trend in the economy.Australian Bureau of Statistics
Tuesday's balance of payments carried a similar note and other publications are also presumably affected.
There may be valid statistical reasons to do this, but surely the ABS should record things as they are, not as they would be if something untoward had not happened.
The ABS needs to explain in more detail what this means for key economic indicators, especially given the importance its figures can play in the battleground of politics.
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