Open Letter to Prime Minister from Concerned Australians on Need to Exit COVID-19 Lockdown

Christopher Joye

Coolabah Capital

An Open Letter from Concerned Australians on Trade-offs During the COVID-19 Crisis

The views expressed are those of the signatories and not necessarily those of their employer. 

Summary: Australia’s outstanding success cauterising the spread of COVID-19 has placed us in a position to seek to promptly reactivate the economy. If the current lockdown is allowed to continue as some academics propose, millions of Australians will suffer from dire economic and human costs, including prolonged unemployment, rising suicide rates, homelessness, domestic violence, drug and alcohol abuse, and abject poverty. A measured exit from the current containment strategy will spark a recovery in employment, incomes and growth, and minimise the financial and health costs from what could otherwise be a 1-in-100 year depression.

Dear Prime Minister and Members of the National Cabinet,

The undersigned Australians have witnessed and participated in the public debate about when to gradually relax the economic lockdown in Australia as the country crushes the coronavirus.

Some academic economists have expressed the view that there is “false distinction” in the trade-off between the public health and economic aspects of the crisis.

We, as concerned Australians, including economists, believe the aforementioned academics’ claim that there is no such trade-off is both theoretically and empirically wrong.

We further believe that the academics’ failure to acknowledge the inherent trade-off between the costs of shuttering most Australian businesses in exchange for the benefits of cauterising the coronavirus will do permanent economic damage by sacrificing millions of jobs and killing businesses that have every right to continue to survive an exogenous shock that is the financial equivalent of an asteroid strike.

The fact is Australia is in a position to optimise national health outcomes while minimising the irreparable economic destruction wrought by a policy of prolonged containment. That is to say, we can have a well-functioning economy operating simultaneously with an unrelenting, all-out effort to address and contain the public health COVID-19 crisis.

The pro-active policy measures Australia has put in place at our borders and within our states and territories have dramatically reduced the number of new infections to impressively low levels. We have successfully flattened our COVID-19 infection and fatality curves more effectively than the vast majority of developed countries.

It is imperative that Australia does not now squander our enviable position by throwing the economic baby out with the bathwater in the name of pursuing health goals in isolation from the profound and permanent financial costs of these policies.

It is now clear the policy of containment is also having adverse social, health and other human impacts on the approximately three million Australians who are tragically unemployed, underemployed or preparing their businesses for bankruptcy.

There is a present danger that the incredible work policymakers have done saving the lives of the minority of Australians at mortal risk from COVID-19 could potentially precipitate a 1-in-100 year depression that has much greater negative health consequences for society at large than the virus itself. These include high levels of prolonged unemployment, rising suicide rates, homelessness, domestic violence, drug and alcohol abuse, and abject poverty.

This represents a direct, second-order health trade-off beyond the first-order economic costs that could, ironically, be much greater than the health fears that prompted the policy of long-term containment in the first place.

These concerns were reinforced by the RBA’s governor, Dr Phil Lowe, during his assessment this week that Australia faces a “once in a century event of marked economic contraction”. Governor Lowe stressed that “the more people lose jobs and the more businesses are destroyed, the longer it takes to recover”. “The longer this goes on, the greater the economic damage to the economic infrastructure of this country will be,” Dr Lowe said.

We also worry about the significant increase in public debt required to fund one of the world’s most aggressive fiscal programs to back-stop growth for the proposed six-month period of business hibernation.

High debt levels limit the ability of future governments to deliver world-class health and education systems and other much-needed public amenities. They will also constrain policymakers from providing the fiscal stimulus required to combat more serious future crises while burdening subsequent generations with responsibility for servicing large tax liabilities that have been assumed to protect a minority of their predecessors.

Our borders will need to remain under strict controls for an extended period until rapid testing is available at air and sea ports. It is also vital Australians maintain social-distancing measures to minimise the coronavirus’s reproduction rate. And we endorse the government’s desire to continue to expand Australia’s world-class testing practices and enhance contact tracing capabilities, which are essential for avoiding future outbreaks while getting workers back into their jobs.

A measured scaling-back of the current lockdown policy would help avoid a depression by allowing businesses to reactivate over May, bringing staff back to work, offering goods and services the public can acquire, which will generate much-needed income across our communities. This will in turn reduce the risks of severe mental health issues damaging the lives of millions of unemployed Australians.

Academic research shows that those who have a job enjoy substantially superior health and quality of life than those who do not. We owe it to all Australians to act in their best collective interests by maximising their health outcomes while minimising unnecessary economic, social and human costs.

Sincerely,

Brendan K. Beare, Professor, School of Economics, The University of Sydney.

Everald Compton, Adjunct, Professor, Faculty of Health and Social Sciences, University of Queensland

Prof (Adj) Paul Kidd, National Senior Program Manager, Diabetes in Schools, Diabetes Australia

Ramesh Thakur, Emeritus Professor, Crawford School of Public Policy, The Australian National University

David I. Stern, Professor, Crawford School of Public Policy at the Australian National University

Adam Creighton, Economics Editor, The Australian

Will Hamilton, CEO, Hamilton Wealth Partners

Kieran Hennessy, CEO Seattle Group

Nick Hossack, Principal, Benchmark Analytics, former adviser to Prime Minister Howard

Christopher Joye, CEO, Coolabah Capital Investments

Stephen Koukoulas, CEO, Market Economics, former adviser to Prime Minister Gillard

Ian Macoun, CEO Pinnacle Investment Management, inaugural CEO of QIC

Harry Moffitt, CEO & Psychologist, Stotan Group

Terry McCrann, Business Columnist, Herald Sun & The Australian

Andrew Mohl, Former CEO, AMP and Non Executive Director, CBA

Campbell Newman AO, Chairman of Arcana Capital and Former Premier of Queensland

Anthony Roberts, Managing Director, Porter Davis

John Stone, former Treasury Secretary and Senator for Queensland

Dr Christian Dandre, Partner Eminence Capital Management

Michael Johnson, Chairman, Orbitz Elevators, Federal Member for Ryan (2001-2010), Parliament of Australia.

Dan Petrie, Economic Data Journalist and Tutor, Queensland University of Technology

Harvey Kalman, Executive General Manager, Corporate Trustee Services & Global Head of Fund Services

John Humphreys, economics lecturer at the University of Queensland 

Julie Claridge, Lawyer, concerned citizen 

James Newton, Principal, Urban Capital Private

James Philips, Lawyer, company director and writer

Nicholas D Birrell, CEO Kintan Pty Ltd

Brett Stevenson, Founder/Director, Excellere

Ezequiel Trumper, Principal Solicitor, Haller & Grad Lawyers 

David Chen, Managing Director, YHI Power Pty Ltd

Peter Robinson, Former Captain of Australian Blind Cricket Team

Rhian Bilclough, Economics Teacher, Shenton College

Dereck Becker, Titania CS Global PTY LTD

George M Bloomfield, Managing Director,  Bloomfield Tremayne & Partners

Dr. Milan Holecek, retired Radiation Oncologist

If you would like to add your name to this letter, please leave your name and company via the comments below

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Disclaimer: This information has been prepared by Smarter Money Investments Pty Ltd. It is general information only and is not intended to provide you with financial advice. You should not rely on any information herein in making any investment decisions. To the extent permitted by law, no liability is accepted for any loss or damage as a result of any reliance on this information. Past performance is not an indicator of nor assures any future returns or risks. Smarter Money Investments Pty Limited (ACN 153 555 867) is authorised representative #000414337 of Coolabah Capital Institutional Investments Pty Ltd, which holds Australian Financial Services Licence No. 482238 and authorised representative #001277030 of EQT Responsible Entity Services Ltd that holds Australian Financial Services Licence No. 223271.

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Christopher Joye
Portfolio Manager & Chief Investment Officer
Coolabah Capital

Chris co-founded Coolabah in 2011, which today runs $7 billion with a team of 33 executives focussed on generating credit alpha from mispricings across fixed-income markets. In 2019, Chris was selected as one of FE fundinfo’s Top 10 “Alpha...

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