Josh Frydenberg should have been unveiling the commonwealth’s first surplus in more than a decade on Tuesday.
Instead, the treasurer stood up in parliament and presented a set of numbers that literally caused him to choke.
In a socially distanced parliament, Mr Frydenberg struggled to suppress a coughing fit as he discussed the sobering data revealing the economic effects of the coronavirus.
He confirmed Treasury’s forecast the economy will shrink by $50 billion, or 10 per cent, in the June quarter amid the coronavirus restrictions that have shut down swathes of businesses.
The loss is equivalent to the total quarterly production of South Australia, Tasmania, the Northern Territory and the ACT.
The departmental figures are in line with the Reserve Bank’s forecasts released on Friday.
While the full budget has been delayed until October, Treasury will deliver an updated fiscal outlook in June.
Mr Frydenberg outlined the boost to jobs and GDP expected during the three-stage relaxing of restrictions between now and July.
Once the third stage is reached, the economy should be $9.4 billion a month better off and 850,000 Australians should be back in work.
That includes people who have been stood down and are receiving the JobKeeper wage subsidy, who aren’t counted among official unemployment numbers.
Labour force figures out on Thursday are expected to show a million more people out of work now than in February.
Mr Frydenberg warned any improvements depended on Australians continuing to follow health advice.
“Failing to do so could see restrictions re-imposed at a loss of more than $4 billion a week to the economy,” he said.
“This is the economic cost we all have to bear if we fail to act.”
Nevertheless, Australia should be confident about its future.
The government is now looking at how to boost growth during the recovery.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison is under pressure from some within his party to end the expensive JobKeeper wage subsidy earlier than the planned six months.
Labor says a lower than expected take-up means it should be expanded to cover short-term casuals and others who missed out.
“The answer is not spending more or spending forever,” Mr Morrison told coalition colleagues on Tuesday.
Mr Frydenberg said Australians knew there was “no money tree” and anything government borrowed today had to be paid back in the future.
Greens senator Peter Whish-Wilson called for the government to invest in infrastructure, clean energy and communities.
“Our economy is a money tree. If you water it, it will grow,” he told parliament.
Shadow treasurer Jim Chalmers said it was clear coronavirus was a “diabolical pandemic with devastating economic consequences”.
“Yet all we got today is a cut and paste of what the government has already said and what Australians already knew,” he told parliament.
“If only the treasurer had coughed up some detail or a plan.”