Image for Lies, damned lies and Peter Gutwein

It was, if you listen to Peter Gutwein and don’t bother with the actual figures, ‘a merry Christmas for Tassie retailers’ ( TT here ).

‘Tasmania’s economic recovery is well and truly gaining momentum, with retailers recording their best ever December trading figures,’ he crowed in a press release, ‘which caps off the strongest ever year of retail sales.’

Optimism is a wonderful thing. Up to a point.

Unfortunately for the Treasurer, his own department issued the next day their own analysis of the national retail figures that showed Tasmanian retailers had the worst Christmas of any state or territory in the country.

No statistician or policy analyst looks too closely at the raw monthly data. Those figures bounce around too much. To find out what’s actually going on, we need to look at the seasonally-adjusted and, even more reliably, the trend figures.

The trend data, on which Mr Gutwein’s department relies, shows that Tasmanian retail turnover fell by 0.2% between November and December. That’s right. As Christmas approached, people actually stopped buying things.

The picture seems a little better when you look initially at the change from the previous December ‒ up by 1.5% ‒ but then you realise that’s not so good either. Every other state and territory except Queensland did a lot better. Across the country, that figure went up by 3.3% and in NSW, it was 6.1%.

And this is nominal data. It doesn’t take account of a thing called inflation. When you include the general rise in prices, this state’s retailers went nowhere.

Over the whole of 2014, the value of Tasmanian retail trade, allowing for inflation, rose by 2.0%, against a national average of 3.6%.

There’s another underlying reality that the figures don’t look at: how much of every dollar paid by a customer is real profit for the business? This year, discounting and sales began weeks, sometimes months, ahead of Christmas rather than on Boxing Day. That means profit margins are likely to have been squeezed hard. And the contribution of Christmas retail trading to the state’s wealth is further muted.

These trends reverberate throughout the economy, resulting in lower employment growth and less prosperity than would otherwise be the case. All of this means Mr Gutwein’s Santa impersonation is looking a bit silly.

The figures also show retail has been slowing ever since the state election

The official figures do, though, give us an idea of how particular retail sectors are doing. For December, only food retailing did better than in November, rising by 0.4%. Cafes and restaurants and household goods were both down 0.6%, clothing and footwear were down 1.0% and department stores were down 0.9%. And that’s before inflation.

The figures also show retail has been slowing ever since the state election ‒ since the start of the budget cuts, the sackings of public servants and the service downgrades. And this added to the headwinds from the federal budget and the global economic slowdown, making Tasmania’s economic situation worse than it needed to be.

Up until the state and federal elections, Tasmania’s economy was recovering strongly. Overall, it is still in recovery, but formerly strong growth has turned pallid and patchy.

Everyone expects politicians to lie. It’s what they do. They can’t stop themselves.

But we ought to be able to rely on the word of a Treasurer for basic information about the state of the economy.

Talking up a state’s prospects is no sin. But when you tell obvious untruths, there’s a chance that someone, somewhere, will look at the actual figures.
• Chris B, in Comments: How can we doubt Gut Whiner when Southern Cross News obviously read out the press release and call it news, yes the economy is booming you bet we are we can. Then the lying ABC report the same figures and taking into account the necessary seasonal adjustments in these matters and show no improvements whatsoever. In addition the Chamber of Commerce relate the rosy condition of our economy on the same Southern Cross, where is the collusion there? (they got the same release?) No wonder the ability in Tasmania to report news and current affairs is now restricted by the cuts to the ABC because they do not do and report as they are told by a mendacious glove puppet master from the Australian Senate who is running this Government and its fascist policies.