FactCheck Social Media

NZ national debt figure of $120 billion is out of date – it’s now higher

2020-07-07 15:11:19

The Statement

A Facebook post claims New Zealand’s national debt has risen to more than $NZ120 billion.

The post lists NZ’s debt at $120,153,318,693 and credits NZ Treasury as the source of the figure. The post is accompanied by a comment, “WHAT HAS THIS GOVT DONE TO US?”  and includes a link to the website worlddebtclocks.com/newzealand.

The July 1 post has been shared more than 200 times and attracted more than 26,000 views and 40 comments.

A Facebook post
 A Facebook post claims New Zealand’s national debt has risen to more than $NZ120 billion. 

The Analysis

As the world wrestles with the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, aggregator websites attempt to reflect the growing debt levels of economies in “real time”. Websites such as commodity.com keep an aggregated running tally on global debt as well as each nation’s public debt. However, it does so with a disclaimer: “While we do our best to present accurate data, we offer no guarantees or warranties that the data we present is necessarily accurate”.

For its New Zealand national debt counter, World Debt Clocks states the data is sourced from NZ Treasury.

NZ Treasury’s interim financial statement for the 10 months to the end of April showed NZ’s gross sovereign-issued debt was $120,323 million (page 15). The Facebook post on July 1 puts NZ’s national debt at $120,153 million ($120.1 billion).

A spokesman for NZ Treasury, Bryan McDaniel, told AAP FactCheck by email that while the figure of $120 billion was accurate to the end of April, Treasury has forecast $134,229 million ($134.2 billion) of gross sovereign-issued debt as at June 30.

“This is as per Budget Economic and Fiscal Update 2020,” Mr McDaniel said. The update was published on May 14, 2020 (page 107).

Gross sovereign debt “represents debt issued by the sovereign (the Core Crown) and includes government stock held by the New Zealand Superannuation Fund (NZS Fund), ACC (Accident Compensation Corporation) and EQC (Earthquake Commission),” according to the NZ Treasury update  (page 134). The Core Crown (page 132) refers to a reporting segment that includes government departments and ministries, parliament offices, NZ Reserve Bank, and the NZS Fund.

At the bottom of the World Debt Clocks website it says that data is “collected from official government agencies and central banks or Eurostat” but offers no further information on how that data is mined. It also states: “World Debt Clocks have no secret agenda. We are not affiliated, connected, sponsored or even friendly to any political party, pressure/lobby group, or steering party in the world. Our only aim is to provide clear and up to date information about the ongoing debt crisis.”

Mr Daniel told AAP FactCheck that since World Debt Clocks is a continually updating calculator, it is difficult to state whether the balance at any point in time was accurate.

“What can be said is that the current balance on the clock of circa $120 billion (as at 6 July 2020) is broadly consistent with the gross sovereign-issued debt level at 30 April 2020, however this is not consistent with the forecasted gross sovereign-issued debt level at 30 June 2020 which is $134,229 million as explained.”

Auckland's CBD.
 New Zealand’s national debt is forecast to be $134 billion as at June 30, according to NZ Treasury. 

The Verdict

Based on the evidence, AAP FactCheck found the claim in the post to be partly false. The July 1 post uses a debt figure from worlddebtclocks.com that was accurate for the end of April 2020. However, New Zealand’s revised debt level is forecast to be $134,229 million ($134.2 billion) as at June 30, 2020. So while the debt figure may have been right for April, the number was already higher by the time the post appeared.

Partly False – The claims of the content are a mixture of accurate and inaccurate.

* AAP FactCheck is accredited by the Poynter Institute’s International Fact-Checking Network, which promotes best practice through a stringent and transparent Code of Principles. https://aap.com.au/