Treasurer won't speculate on GDP outlook

Colin Brinsden
Treasurer Josh Frydenberg has been grilled on the economy on the ABC Insiders program on Sunday

Federal treasurer Josh Frydenberg says it is too early to say what impact the coronavirus will have on the Australia economy, which has already felt the heat from a summer of bushfires.

Neither would the treasurer concede that he had jumped the gun in saying the nation's finances were "back in the black" when he handed down the budget last April and just prior to the federal election.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced sweeping measures to prevent the spread of the coronavirus from China and which has already seen 12 cases recorded in Australia.

This included stopping foreign travellers entering Australia.

Mr Frydenberg told the ABC's Insiders program on Sunday China is a critical economic partner for Australia and the source of over 200,000 foreign students and 1.4 million tourists and provide a combined $16 billion to the economy.

"It's too early to give a definite view about the economic impact because we don't know how severe and how sustained the virus outbreak is," the treasurer said.

He said the SARS virus in 2003 did impact on student numbers and tourist numbers fell about 11 per cent in the June quarter of that year, and while trade was affected, it rebounded in subsequent quarter.

But shadow treasurer Jim Chalmers said the treasurer shouldn't use the fires and coronavirus as excuses for his long-standing failures on the economy.

"The full economic impacts of the events of this summer remain to be seen but what is already clear is that economy was weak before the fire hits and before most people had even hear of coronavirus," Dr Chalmers said in a statement.

"The economy is floundering because Scott Morrison had a political strategy to buy the election but not a plan to boost wages or grow the economy."

Mr Frydenberg declined to speculate whether the economy could face a quarter of economic contraction.

"There are things that we can control and things that we can't control," he said.

"When it comes to the outbreak of the virus, when it comes to the fires, when it comes to the floods, when it comes to the trade tensions between the United States and China, we can't control those factors."

He was then asked three times by new Insiders host and former Sky News political editor David Speers whether he was premature in saying the budget was "back in the black" last April, and each time the treasurer referred to the government having got the budget back balance last year.

"That's a significant achievement. In terms of a surplus, you'll have to tune in on budget night," he said.

"What we do know is that these events outside of our control are going to have a significant impact on the Australian economy."