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Economic cost of bushfires estimated at $2 billion and rising

January 8, 2020 8:24 am

The cost to the Australian economy of this summer’s devastating bushfire season has already likely topped $2 billion – and is still climbing.

Economists are tipping the Reserve Bank will deliver another interest rate cut next month, amid fears the fires will prompt already cautious consumers to spend even less.

The head of economic analysis at SGS Economics and Planning, Terry Rawnsley, estimates the direct costs to fire-affected regions from lost tourism, agricultural and retail income already lies between $1.1 billion to $1.9 billion this financial year.

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In addition, the smoke haze regularly shrouding major cities was likely to have reduced national economic output by a further $500 million since the start of summer, Mr Rawnsley estimated, including through lost productivity, spending and ill health.

“You’re getting up to a $1.5 to $2.5 billion impact on the economy,” he said.

The figures are based on the previous modelling of the Tathra fires in 2018 and the link between the size of insurable losses and economic output. As insurable losses rise – $375 million on the last estimate by the Insurance Council of Australia – so, too, will economic costs.

Mr Rawnsley estimated a hit to national gross domestic product of 0.15 per cent this financial year, mostly in the March quarter. He warned many affected communities may never fully recover.

“For those local communities, they’re looking at a 25 to 50 per cent reduction to their economy. Whether they can bounce back again from that is the question for the long term,” he said.

“A lot of those areas are holiday towns and rely on summer-period income to get them through the year. If the town’s been burnt out, people may decide to leave for good. Some of those areas are pretty marginal to start with. If your population drifts away, you don’t really get that benefit from rebuilding stimulus.”

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