The government has refused to release Treasury documents that spell out the assumed costs and benefits of border closures, lockdowns and other COVID-19 restrictions, a decision prominent economists have slammed as “outrageous”. The federal government has classed 38 different estimates of the costs of various restrictions, including borders closures, school closures and Victoria’s series of extra lockdowns as “cabinet documents”, which excludes them from public access under Freedom of Information laws, The Australian has learned.
Source: Adam Creighton, News Corp
‘Outrageous’ lockdown secrecy slammed
Economist Saul Eslake said it was “outrageous that the government won’t share with the public any of the basis for the decisions it has made”.
“Treasury’s Freedom of Information officer is almost certainly correct that the law does allow him to refuse access to documents which are prepared for cabinet … but that doesn’t make it any more acceptable,” he said.
UNSW professor Peter Swan said the decision was “absolutely outrageous”.
“The fact that not a single word can be revealed on the impact of Victorian COVID-19 restrictions on the Victorian and Australian economy even now, long after they have cost taxpayers hundreds of billions of dollars and forced thousands of Australian small businesses to close, indicates the damning nature of the contents of these documents,” he said.
“It would seem highly likely that the government has ignored advice from Treasury and elsewhere that lockdown is almost entirely unproductive and ineffective, as well as being economically crippling.”
Governments around the world have been criticised for not producing cost-benefit analyses to justify COVID-19 restrictions, instead referring to “health advice” or “the science.
Cost-benefit analyses require laying out the estimated benefits of an action, in this case the number and age of lives saved, against estimates of social, health and economic costs of restrictions.
New Zealand’s decision to lockdown early last year cost about $NZ750m and saved about 30 elderly lives, according to a cost-benefit analysis produced last May by that country’s Productivity Commission, obtained last year under of FOI laws.
“New Zealand’s COVID response policy was a lot more costly than it needed to be. That matters, because unnecessary costs incurred will detract from the current and future health and wellbeing of the population,” Dave Heatley, an economist and the study’s author, said.
“I’m glad the Australian Treasury did use a CBA … but we know nothing about the quality of this work, nor whether it was central.”
The government’s decision not to release the documents follows another “snap” lockdown in Perth, tough penalties on arrivals from India in the midst of a second COVID-19 wave, and growing concern the international border will remain shut indefinitely.
Douglas Allen, a Canadian economist at Simon Fraser University who last month reviewed 80 cost-benefit analyses of government’s COVID-19 restrictions, found those that supported lockdowns made unrealistically pessimistic assumptions over death rates in the absence of coercion and ignored many costs.
“Lockdown caused a broad range of costs through lost civil liberty, lost social contact, lost educational opportunities, lost medical preventions and procedures, increased domestic violence, increased anxiety and mental suffering, and increased deaths of despair,” he said. “It is possible lockdown will go down as one of the greatest peacetime policy failures in Canada’s history.”