The NSW lockdown has cost the state billions of dollars – but the exact estimate can’t be told publicly because it is a government secret, a senior Treasury bureaucrat has said.

NSW Chief Economist Stephen Walters told a parliamentary inquiry he had provided a calculation of the cost to the government, but said he wasn’t able to state that figure publicly because it was “cabinet in confidence”.

However Mr Walters indicated the figure could be as high as $16 billion.

“The weekly cost changes – the advice we’re giving to government on the actual number is cabinet in confidence, because the restriction levels change,” Mr Walters told the inquiry into the government’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic.

It prompted committee chair and Greens MP David Shoebridge to ask: “You can’t tell me it’s a government secret, what the actual cost to the NSW economy has been – you’re not seriously telling me that’s a government secret?”

“I am telling you it’s cabinet in confidence,” Mr Walters replied.

Mr Walters said that Treasurer Dominic Perrottet had previously indicated the weekly cost of the lockdown was $1.3 billion.

He said that was the “latest information” that was publicly available.

At the weekend, the Sydney lockdown will enter its 14th week, meaning the accumulated cost could already be as high as $16.9 billion.

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