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Gross domestic product dived by 0.3 per cent in the March quarter, national accounts data showed

Australia's economy has shrunk for the first time in almost a decade with most of the decline occurring even before the coronavirus business shutdowns.

Gross domestic product, also known as GDP, dived by 0.3 per cent in the March quarter as a result of COVID-19 and the summer bushfires, official national accounts data showed.

Should the economy shrink again in the June quarter, Australia will be officially in recession for the first time in almost three decades. 

Since the 1991 recession Australia, there had only previously been three negative quarters, with the last quarterly contraction occurring in early 2011.

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Australia's economy has shrunk for the first time in almost a decade as a result of the coronavirus shutdowns

There was December 2000 contraction after the introduction of the Goods and Services Tax and the dot com bust, which saw a 0.4 per cent drop in economic activity.

Then there was December 2008 during the Global Financial Crisis (minus 0.5 per cent) and March 2011 at the height of the carbon tax debate (down 0.3 per cent). 

Bruce Hockman, the chief economist at the Australian Bureau of Statistics, said Australia's annual growth pace of 1.4 per cent was the slowest since September 2009 during the GFC.

'This was the slowest through-the-year growth since September 2009 when Australia was in the midst of the Global Financial Crisis and captures just the beginning of the expected economic effects of COVID-19,' he said.

Most of the ABS data was collected before the March 23 shutdowns of non-essential businesses, ranging from gyms to cinemas and dine-in restaurants. 

The Reserve Bank of Australia and Treasury are both forecasting a 10 per cent plunge in economic activity in the first half of 2020, marking an even sharper slump than the early 1930s Great Depression.

In 1991, the last time Australia was in recession, the economy shrunk by 1.4 per cent in one year. 

The RBA is expecting unemployment to hit 10 per cent by the end of June, reaching a level last seen in April 1994 as the jobless rate remained high in the aftermath of the early 1990s recession. 

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