Ley Down Your Guns: Health Minister Must Resign

AFTER WEIGHING public interest, the political interests of the Liberal Party, and justifications offered by Health minister Sussan Ley for “errors of judgement” that see her seek to reimburse a raft of expense claims in order to save her political career, this column believes the minister has offered too little, too late to atone for actions that should never have occurred. In the interests of probity and the integrity of the political process, she must resign.

Note: since this article was published just after 8pm on 8 January, additional allegations of travel entitlement misuse against minister Ley have been raised in the mainstream press; I will keep an eye on these, and may post again in the next day or so. – YS

At a time in which Commonwealth finances sit at a tipping point — with the haemorrhaging federal budget unlikely to be brought into surplus by piecemeal fiddles announced by Treasurer Scott Morrison, and with Commonwealth debt now beyond the half-trillion dollar mark and continuing to soar — to say nothing of the prospect of a downgrade to Australia’s international credit rating later this year, the self-indulgent and gratuitous abuse of public monies, by political figures on all sides, simply must be terminated.

I have spent the past week observing the growing fracas around Health minister Sussan Ley and the apparent misuse of parliamentary travel entitlements that has been uncovered in relation to the “impulse purchase” of a $795,000 penthouse apartment on Queensland’s Gold Coast, and was very close to calling for the minister to resign or be sacked in this column late last night.

However, in light of a statement from Ms Ley issued this afternoon (and you can read that here) — I am now satisfied that the minister’s mea culpa is insufficient to atone for her cavalier misuse of taxpayers’ monies, and that it has been offered primarily in an attempt to salvage her political career rather than from any genuine sense of regret.

In this sense, if Ms Ley’s commitment to standards and decency in public office is as authentic as she claims, then tomorrow must bring her resignation from Malcolm Turnbull’s government.

Readers may access a selection of the mainstream media coverage of this issue here, here and here; these detail a slew of Comcar, air travel and accommodation-related expenses claimed by Ms Ley over the past couple of years totalling several thousand dollars, including a charter flight from Canberra to the Gold Coast — which her statement today fails to mention altogether — that cost some $12,000, and which she claimed was booked because commercial flights were “not suitable.”

And just to complicate things even further, the Nine Network is reporting tonight that Ms Ley last year billed taxpayers more than $76,000 for a seven-day trip to the United States: needless to say, this claim elicited no mention from Ley today either, and the quantum of the amounts involved suggest that at the very least, literally no expense whatsoever was spared on a trip that cost more than $11,000 per day — including $40,000 for flights, which is obscene.

Whichever way you cut it, this entire episode stinks: and in all honesty, the lipservice paid by the minister today to quaint notions of accountability and value for the taxpayer dollar raises more questions than it answers.

This column has consistently demanded more emphasis be placed on lifting standards in Australian politics, and whilst I have been derided by Labor types for applying the blowtorch to ALP miscreants as and when indicated, the desire for better accountability and less of a sense of entitlement at the expense of the taxpayer applies equally to all parties.

The unsatisfactory mentality that appears to have developed around travel entitlements since guidelines were changed by the Abbott government in response to a slew of travel expense scandals of its own — that offending MPs can refund the improperly claimed expenses in addition to paying a penalty, and otherwise get off scot-free — makes the kind of incident that now surrounds Ms Ley likely to become a more frequent event, as ministers caught out pay up on discovery, with a small punitive premium being the cost of retaining their plum appointments.

What happens to those whose “inadvertent” wrong claims are never uncovered? Nothing whatsoever, of course. And the fact Cabinet ministers, earning well over $300,000 per year, see fit to bill the tax-paying public for $1,000 here and $1,000 there is an indecency that few ordinary voters — even the highly politically literate — will have ease in accepting or condoning.

By contrast, ordinary wage and salary earners who make fast and loose with $1,000 of their employer’s money for personal travel purposes could confidently expect to be fired if discovered: and this is precisely the fate that must now befall Ms Ley if she refuses to depart the ministry of her own volition.

Her statement conveniently makes no mention of the fact that her partner owns a business within a short distance of the apartment the duo purchased during the Gold Coast visit in question; this fact — along with the reality Ms Ley is also refunding other travel and accommodation-related claims pertaining to Gold Coast travel with her partner on other occasions — tips the balance away from simple oversight and in the direction of a reasonable conclusion that repeated misuse of entitlements that are disturbingly similar in nature are not “inadvertent oversights” at all.

And in fact, just about the only aspect of this grubby episode this column is prepared to defend Ms Ley over is the thinly veiled and grotesque insinuation made by mainstream media outlets and the ALP that a purchase of an apartment from a donor to the Queensland LNP is somehow corrupt: if we start placing restrictions on whom members of Parliament are able to purchase goods and services from with their own money, we risk debasing the standard of politicians and politics itself in this country even further.

That small point aside, Ms Ley has given a noble account of herself couched in lofty rhetoric that nevertheless fails to either meet appropriate standards of ministerial accountability or to satisfactorily answer legitimate questions of propriety in these matters, and she must resign.

Nobody denies Sussan Ley is an impressive individual; in many respects she is one of the most intelligent occupants  of a seat in any Australian House of Parliament today, but this is scarcely the point.

And even though Health is a notoriously difficult portfolio at the best of times — and especially for a Liberal Health minister, perennially faced with gratuitous thuggery by healthcare unions and hostile ALP state governments causing trouble for the sake of it, as Liberals in her role too often are forced to confront — it isn’t as if her performance in the portfolio has been Earth-shattering (although she has run rings around her predecessor, Peter Dutton, who as Health minister bordered on being hopeless).

In a portfolio crying out for reform — thorough, root-and-branch reform, not a piecemeal cut-and-tuck approach to chisel out a few miserly dollars in budget savings at enormous political cost — Ley has proven as unwilling as the rest of her recent predecessors to grasp the bull by the horns, as federal-state duplication, militant union politicking, ALP intransigence and a refusal to take on vested interests means Australia’s burgeoning, bloated public health sector continues to grow increasingly unsustainable.

It was on Ley’s watch that Labor, rightly or wrongly, was able to mount the ridiculous but reprehensible “Mediscare” that the Turnbull government planned to sell off the public healthcare system: something for which some modicum of responsibility must be accepted by Ms Ley.

And when it is remembered that increases to private health insurance premiums approved on Ley’s watch now mean working families on middle incomes are shelling out some $3,000 per year — after the health insurance rebate and over and above the Medicare levy — it is little wonder that private health fund membership, with high excesses and ballooning exclusions lists, is now falling: placing even more strain on a public health system that is at breaking point.

In other words, whatever little merit there may have been in Ms Ley’s thoroughly defective apology today is quickly erased by the flaws in her ministerial track record.

Australians, quite rightly, are fed up with the largesse their politicians dole out to themselves where matters of “entitlement” are concerned.

It is indisputable that the job of an MP (and especially of a minister) is dour, arduous, time-consuming, and a hefty strain on personal relationships.

It may seem unfair to call for Sussan Ley’s head where others, ostensibly guilty of greater sins, have escaped, and Ms Ley’s “errors of judgement” do not, when considered in context, exceed the outrage committed by former Speaker Bronwyn Bishop in 2015.

Yet the more of these “errors of judgement” the Australian public is instructed to tolerate by politicians pretending to be contrite, the less inclined it grows to do so, and in this sense, Ms Ley’s resignation or dismissal should also serve as a warning to others once it has been obtained.

Australian parliamentarians, despite the exacting nature of their roles, are reasonably remunerated; they earn base salaries starting at some $200,000 per annum, in addition to other allowances and entitlements, and despite the reform of the parliamentary superannuation scheme by the Howard government in 2001 nevertheless enjoy employer-funded superannuation that is more generous than most private sector organisations are able to offer to their own employees.

When it is remembered that every conceivable reasonable expense incurred in the course of politicians discharging their duties is paid by taxpayers, the demand for probity and transparency is not only justified, but to be expected.

It is not good enough for the Liberal Party — with a cocked finger pointed across the aisle at the ALP — to simply claim that “we’re not as bad as they are” and to attempt to sweep matters such as those involving Ms Ley under the carpet.

Whilst perhaps indelicate to say so, it is not in the Liberal Party’s interests, at a time the party languishes in reputable opinion polling and holding office by its fingernails, to accrue and retain a contingent of ministers with legitimate and insufficiently answered question marks hanging over their use — or misuse — of ministerial entitlements.

The Australian public deserves better: and this in itself warrants the call for Ms Ley to go.

Former Prime Minister Tony Abbott — a proven Howard government Health minister — would be a ready-made replacement, with the additional political carrot of extending an olive branch to the conservative wing of Turnbull’s party; alternatively, the vacancy could be used to promote a Christian Porter, a Josh Frydenberg, or an Angus Taylor — giving one of the party’s likely future leaders greater experience in a solid, heavy domestic portfolio that is integral to the success of any future government.

Last — but by no means least — if Ms Ley refuses to resign, then it becomes incumbent upon Malcolm Turnbull to exhibit the requisite degree of leadership, and dismiss her.

Yet that would require Turnbull the behave like a leader in the first place: and for a Prime Minister whose sole priority appears to simply be Prime Minister — aside from throwing potential future leadership rivals like Frydenberg and Treasurer Scott Morrison under a bus — that is a different matter entirely, and one we have no faith in his ability or inclination to answer.

Ordinary Australians are disgusted by the revelations surrounding Ms Ley’s travel arrangements, and I know many rank-and-file Liberals who are seething that yet another of Malcolm Turnbull’s star lieutenants and leadership supporters has created yet more embarrassment and damage to the party and to the government.

The ball is in Turnbull’s court. If Ley refuses to go quietly, she must be sacked.

Shorten Promise To Slash GP Fees Is A Dangerous Delusion

THE PROMISE by ALP “leader” Bill Shorten to cut fees for GP visits by up to $25 is dubious, almost certainly unfunded, and a further recipe to ramp up debt to fund spending from a party planning $102bn in tax hikes that have already been discredited by independent analysts as incapable of generating the projected revenue. The bribe will either not be delivered, will drive the country deeper into debt, or need hitherto secret taxes to fund it.

With my time once again at a heavy premium this week, I’ve found myself in a quandary this morning: whether to talk about the latest hare-brained promise from Labor (this time on Health), the embarrassment it has brought upon itself by bickering over asylum seeker policy, or the naive and nakedly populist proposal to yank negative gearing concessions out of the economy, with the potential to create economic mayhem and downturn that they entail.

The Medicare announcement wins — by a bee’s diaphragm — and if my workload eases up at all over the next few days we will return to the other two issues, for like anything that passes the lips of “Billy Bullshit” and his band of merry miscreants, none of their utterances on these matters should be taken at face value.

But the Medicare pledge announced yesterday by Shorten — to reduce the cost of visiting a doctor by between $14 and $25 — ought to be consumed with a rather large pinch of salt; reportedly set to cost $12.2bn over ten years, Labor’s past record suggests that the actual figure is likely to be roughly double that amount.

Even if it isn’t, Shorten is already throwing promises totalling tens of billions of dollars around like confetti, with taxation promises that can’t pay for them, and that should give voters pause enough for thought on its own.

By lifting the Coalition’s freeze on indexing the Medicare rebate, this promise will cost $2.4bn over four years, rising to $12.2bn over a decade; already staggering under the weight of non-existent money with which to pay for other lavish promises, Shorten knows that this expenditure is completely unaffordable: and he doesn’t even care.

There isn’t much point in examining the merits of the latest Labor Health announcement — there aren’t any — and instead, this “initiative” speaks more to the operational practice over at the ALP these days of saying whatever its boffins think will force the gullible and/or stupid to vote for it than it does to any serious attempt to fashion credible policy.

The only thing that matters to the ALP is power: to get it, and keep it, by literally any and all means possible.

And with Shorten on the record that becoming Prime Minister of Australia is his “destiny” (get the sick bucket), this new announcement merely serves to strengthen that assessment.

The 25% or so, give or take, of Australians who are not currently bulk billed (including myself) pay gap contributions over and above the schedule Medicare fee of anywhere between $30 and $50 for a GP visit; the indexation of the rebate is generally only a couple of extra dollars per year. So how does Shorten arrive at a figure of up to $25 cheaper on this measure?

Those who are bulk billed, of course, pay nothing. How do these people get a saving from the Shorten policy of $14 to $25 every time they see a doctor?

The suggestion the $12.2bn would be covered by discontinuing the baby bonus, abandoning company tax cuts and capping VET Fee Help loans sounds suspiciously like cover for raising taxes to pay for something else — perhaps the shortfall from his existing plan to extort $102bn from Australian workers and businesses over a decade.

Because patients who continue to be bulk billed will continue to be refunded nothing — with or without Shorten’s policy — and those who aren’t bulk billed are not going to see consultation fees cut by the level Shorten claims when just two or three dollars per visit are added to the existing Medicare rebate.

So, “Billy Bullshit” strikes again, it would seem.

Whether or not indexation of the rebate is restored, it seems unlikely that Shorten is proposing to increase it by $14-$25 either.

But if the increases in line with CPI do recommence ahead of schedule, the cost blowouts faced by Medicare will grow even faster as population growth and an ageing population compound the effects of indexation, and fuel the budget deficit further into the red.

And this, in turn, means more foreign debt: something Labor denies any responsibility for, despite racking up $300bn of it in six years before 2013, and which it has stoutly refused to allow the Coalition to repair through its childish, megalomaniac obstruction in the Senate ever since.

In short, this is a promise that will either never be delivered — or simply become the newest monument to Labor’s dubious recent heritage of economic vandalism — or will need other, secret taxes to fund it that the self-confessed liar Shorten has hitherto failed to level with the Australian public over.

I think it’s just a further illustration of Shorten’s penchant for saying whatever seems like a good idea when it comes to hoodwinking voters, so desperate is he to slake his ego with the title of Prime Minister — and to hell with whatever it might cost the country in the longer term.

Just like his plan to hit “the rich” by abolishing negative gearing, which will not help first home buyers, but will raise rents, moderately depress house prices, cost thousands of jobs and create unquantifiable knock-on effects across the broader economy.

But at the end of the day, who cares? So long as Shorten gets to be PM, what difference does it make what he and his acolytes have to say and do to get him there?

When it is remembered Shorten also flagged the abolition of the private health insurance rebate shortly after winning the Labor leadership — a measure that has not been heard of again since then — a better assessment of any government Shorten might lead becomes easier to make.

And when the public healthcare system collapses under the sheer weight of patients flooding it, as they dump their private health policies and withdraw the extra money those policies pump into the healthcare sector overall, empty promises of price cuts that are based in fantasy will be the last thing angry voters are concerned with when they can’t get to see a doctor — or a public hospital bed — at all.

But, never fear: Bill told us it was thus, so thus it must be.

Mustn’t it?

State Of Health: Turnbull Tax Plan A Stinking, Festering Turd

WE WILL say it plainly: Malcolm Turnbull’s “big idea” — to cede a slice of income tax revenue to the states, plus income-taxing powers, in return for ending Commonwealth health grants — is a rancid, festering, stinking turd metaphorically belonging only in a sewer. The package is a nonsense, and reeks of a hastily-concocted mishmash by a government desperate for something, anything to sell after months of political and policy ineptitude.

I write this morning not, oddly enough, to criticise Malcolm Turnbull, but from the sheer horror that my sense he could in fact lose the Coalition government this year is looking less and less like alarmist over-reaction with every passing day; this time — not content to have spent months examining better reform ideas in a thoroughly half-arsed fashion before unequivocally ruling them out, boxing the government in and moving the reform debate onto Labor’s vapid, vacuous turf — Turnbull has apparently presided over the creation of an actual policy initiative that is almost tailor-made for a vicious and hard-hitting ALP scare campaign.

More on that a bit later.

But Turnbull’s grand plan to “withdraw from a certain amount of income tax that would be available to the states” — and to give them the power to raise their own income tax component on Australians living within their respective jurisdictions — is one of the silliest, most politically dangerous and almost certainly unworkable “reform” policies produced by either side of politics for a very, very long time, and makes the “Medicare Gold” embarrassment cooked up by Mark Latham and Julia Gillard in 2004 look like a masterstroke by comparison.

The plan, which is unbelievably bereft of detail (and which readers can peruse more about here and here, with some comment from The Australian here) is, to be most kind, as oxymoronic as the pledge delivered by Tony Abbott in 2013 to bring the haemorrhaging federal budget back into surplus without major spending cuts if he won that year’s election; Abbott, at least, had a catch-all as a get-out-of-jail card: a disclaimer that if the books were in a worse state than the Coalition feared once it attained office, then all bets were off, even if that statement was subsequently ignored and the Abbott government proved incapable of using it to sell the 2014 budget. But Turnbull doesn’t even have anything like that to fall back on.

It’s hard to know where to start, so numerous are the holes in this policy, but the obvious place to start is with the states and territories, in whose hands income-taxing powers would be an anachronism, an assault on the truly national system of economic management that has emerged over decades, and a cynical abrogation of any meaningful attempt at genuine reform.

The states — all six of them — have not held responsibility for collecting income taxes for more than 70 years; the idea they could now do so, with no current expertise in this field, is laughable, and the notion the Commonwealth could collect it on their behalf and remit it to state coffers would seem to defeat the purpose completely.

As for the territories, which would presumably also receive this new power to vary and increase income taxes, it’s a case of something they never had that should not be given now.

It takes a heroic assumption of the behaviour of state governments — irrespective of political stripe — to believe that the power Turnbull is contemplating conferring on them would not be abused, and readers need look no further than their antics after the introduction of the GST in 2000 to know that it would only take a few years after this change for all of the states to be broke again, their people taxed to the hilt, and their governments once again crying poormouth on the Commonwealth’s doorstep.

As intended, the GST provided a short, sharp surge in receipts for state governments; Liberal administrations in Victoria, South Australia, Western Australia, Tasmania and the Coalition in Queensland were quickly bundled out of office at the first available opportunity in each case following the Howard government’s declaration that it would seek to legislate the measure if it won the 1998 election.

The resulting wall-to-wall Labor state governments went on a spending binge that left no lasting benefit or improvement in service standards in key areas such as health, education and roads; thousands of extra bureaucrats bloated and swelled stacked pro-Labor public services, of course, but these people do not directly tend or nurse sick patients, or teach kids, or build freeways.

Of course, those teachers and nurses and emergency services workers lucky enough to have jobs got hefty pay rises, as the rivers of GST gold flowed into their paymasters’ pockets, but their overall numbers did not rise to the extent proportionate with the huge amount of extra money the states had been gifted.

In short, and for the most part, the GST fillip was wasted.

To give the states income-taxing powers now — tied specifically to health — is to open a veritable Pandora’s box.

We already know, from their past behaviour, that the states would hire thousands of additional consultants, analysts, senior fat cats and other pen pushers, but very little in the way of extra teachers and nurses, or the beds and classroom infrastructure their professions require respectively.

Once the agreed share of income tax (whatever it is) has been exhausted — and the states’ income tax levers fully extended to extort more cash out of their people — what will they do? Go directly back to Canberra with their collective hand outstretched.

Of course, Turnbull has given no indication of how the plan will work, which raises the prospect of eight different income tax regimes across the country: this isn’t “competitive federalism,” as some in the Liberal Party like to imagine; it’s anarchy.

And what it also is — exactly as some commentators have already realised — is the thin edge of the wedge of an exercise in double taxation, where both the Commonwealth and the states get to pick over every dollar earned by hard-working mums and dads. The cost of living in this country is already a disgrace, and too many people earning seemingly comfortable incomes are involuntarily doing it tough as it is.

Contrary to Turnbull’s solemn assurance that there would be no overall increase in the tax burden faced by ordinary Australians, this dumb scheme will lead to precisely such an outcome, and as we all know too well, once governments are addicted to increased levels of recurrent spending it is very, very difficult to bring them back down.

Turnbull’s plan contains no details of any accountability measures — if there are any — to put constraints on the states to ensure they do not recklessly abuse the powers he proposes to give them, and if there are no such details to provide, then Turnbull shouldn’t have announced the policy. It’s that simple.

This terrible idea is not, as Turnbull pompously proclaimed, the “most fundamental reform to Federation in generations,” nor “the only way” to address the vertical fiscal imbalance that he claimed constitutes the “failure at the heart of the Federation:” any number of better options for securing government revenues — most notably, GST reform — offer other possibilities for dealing with the problem, even if they have been summarily discarded by the Coalition at the first sign of ALP mischief-making.

But simply shuffling responsibility for who levies which portion of the overall tax take around the place fundamentally solves nothing at all, even if (as expected) the states were to use that right to hike the taxes they took.

Curiously, the state Premiers have been barely lukewarm in their responses to the idea, and there is probably a warning message there: the sense that Turnbull might in fact be wiping his hands of federal responsibility for Health funding probably outweighs, in the mind of a pragmatic Premier, the attraction of what Paul Keating once characterised as “a pot of free money.” Certainly, something smells, and the states appear surprisingly astute in their hesitation.

But once Turnbull gave them partial income taxing powers for Health, what would follow? More state income tax for schools? More state income tax for roads? Before you know it, the Commonwealth would need to drastically increase other taxes (such as job-destroying company taxes) to be able to continue to deliver on Defence, Foreign Affairs, its own share of responsibilities for Roads and Higher Education, and — not least — the $175bn annual welfare bill, which in itself is a national disgrace.

By its nature, the Turnbull plan on Health does not and cannot enforce efficiencies on the states: they would be utterly free to squander every cent of the increased revenues on Labor-allied bureaucrats and other hangers-on if they chose to do so and again, protestations that “that would never happen” are shot down with a glance back in the direction of the post-2000 introduction of the GST.

And having seemingly surrendered funding of Health to the states altogether, the Commonwealth would be in no position at all to oversee any kind of effort to eliminate waste, or to exert any control over health service delivery at all, and with the odd exception of the odd state government for short periods not always determined by which political party holds power, the last thing anyone would argue is that Australian state governments have been star performers when it comes to running hospitals.

After months of picking up tax “reform” ideas, one by one, only to find arcane and at times ridiculous pretexts on which to unilaterally rule them out, the policy announced yesterday by the Prime Minister smacks of desperation, and reeks of the near-panic of a government that is in dire need of something — literally, anything — to cling to and to sell with an election bearing down on it like a road train.

But it won’t fix the funding problem the states have created in their hospitals, by pissing money away on non-frontline personnel when they had it; it won’t guarantee a permanent source of growth revenues to fund health services, and it won’t — irrespective of any melodramatic twaddle from Turnbull — reform the Federation in any way, shape or form: all it will do is create an anarchic mess, to say nothing of the very real scope for the Coalition’s opponents to run the mother of all scare campaigns to ensure it never even materialises.

With luck, this policy will go the same way GST changes, and capital gains changes, and negative gearing changes have gone: dumped. It is an execrable and unbelievably stupid “initiative” from a government that can and should know better. Then again, the quality of policy objectives from governments of both persuasions over the past decade has left a great deal to be desired.

A better discussion would be to finally confront the debate over whether Australia truly embraces universal socialised healthcare, and moves Medicare to a NHS-style system as applies in the UK, or whether it really does look to move to a model of two discrete systems of a public service funded by a Medicare levy with a parallel private system that people can opt out of the public system to join and fund through insurance.

As it stands, families with two middle income earners and a private health policy are paying up to $10,000 per year on health per household, often with poor outcomes in terms of waiting times, cost gaps* over and above those direct payments, and in some cases no availability of services at all.

But whether that happens or not, an even better discussion to have centres on why there should be eight state and territory health bureaucracies — plus a federal department of Health — when the Commonwealth can and should be the sole provider and funder of a single public system that can be streamlined, real savings realised through rationalisation, and the proceeds ploughed back into frontline services in the form of more nurses, beds, and more facilities and equipment.

In short, healthcare in this country is broken, and Labor is every bit as much to blame for that as the Coalition, irrespective of whatever it says to the contrary.

And this brings me back to the scare campaign Labor is already cranking up on the back of Malcolm Turnbull’s stupid, half-baked plans for the states to tax income to pay for hospitals.

Opposition “leader” Bill Shorten’s column today in Sydney’s Daily Telegraph is typical of the vacuous, dishonest, shrill rubbish that forms the ALP’s contribution to public debate these days, and whilst I’m not going to dignify it with the line-by-line demolition it probably merits, it is sufficient to simply describe it as absolute bullshit.

The problem is that whilst Shorten has undeniable form for talking bullshit, there are plenty of people around who like the sound of it, and who don’t give it a second thought: and by releasing such a politically naive policy that can’t and couldn’t achieve what it ostensibly aims to achieve anyway, Turnbull has exposed the government to yet another onslaught of Shorten’s verbal diarrhoea.

This year’s election is no slam dunk for Turnbull. Already, some who are well-placed in Coalition ranks who disagreed privately just a month ago with my assessment that defeat was starting to loom as a possibility are this week telling me they’re reconsidering their opinions on that assessment. And if a festering, stinking turd is the best Turnbull can offer after months of backdowns and policy dithering, then heaven help the country when he really gets cracking with the rest of his election agenda.


*As a personal aside and to illustrate the point, readers will recall I shared my experience of having “a stroke” on an aeroplane last August that wasn’t a stroke at all, but a completely harmless (albeit extremely rare) ear abnormality: despite the Medicare system and despite having top private health cover, it cost me $2,300 in out-of-pocket costs to ultimately ascertain that I needed a grommet. Others will have similar stories. If healthcare in this country is to be fixed, Labor’s model of bureaucrats and big pay rises for existing frontline staff (and little else) — and Turnbull’s game of smoke and mirrors with tax collection arrangements — are nothing more than empty bluster.

No Jab, No Play, No Pay: Denying Anti-Vaxers Welfare Is Right

MOVES BY THE ABBOTT GOVERNMENT to strip so-called “conscientious objectors” of childcare benefits and other welfare payments in response to the refusal to vaccinate their children is welcome, highly appropriate, and long overdue; vaccination is arguably the single greatest contributor to increases in human life expectancy over the past 200 years; it is a reasonable expectation of society, and should not be rewarded in the breach in any way.

At the outset, I should like to note that I have a former colleague and dearly valued friend who is one of the smartest and best-intentioned people I know — and if she is reading this, she knows who she is — who is nevertheless adamant that her child should not be vaccinated (and hasn’t been) and is vehemently opposed to any regime of compulsory childhood vaccinations, or indeed to any vaccinations at all, and whilst I respect her right to her opinion, I vehemently and utterly disagree with her (and have told her as much, for those who wonder about such things).

90% of the population — based on a vote of the feet, or in other words the current overall rate of childhood immunisations nationally — agree with me, the medical community, and the overwhelming and irrefutable evidence that vaccinations save lives.

90%, however, is not enough: for “herd immunity” to be truly effective in eliminating dreadful diseases from our communities, that vaccination rate needs to be at least 94%.

I am very pleased, therefore, to see that in joining the so-called “No Jab, No Play” campaign that is seeing unvaccinated children excluded from day care centres, preschools and (ultimately) schools across the country, the Abbott government has announced it will terminate the entitlement to the childcare allowance, childcare rebate, Family Tax Benefit Part A supplement (and the “bonus” payable for vaccinating children) for parents refusing to complete a recommended schedule of immunisations for their children.

With “No Jab, No Play” increasingly excluding children from child care anyway, ending the entitlement of parents to the government subsidies that apply to it are the logical next step, and one with which I have no quibble whatsoever.

The impact of the measures could cost miscreant families who refuse to immunise their kids up to $15,000 per year, although it could hardly be said to constitute a budget saving — which is perhaps why, for once, Labor “leader” Bill Shorten has made supportive noises, although I will believe Labor’s support is forthcoming when and if it votes for the enabling legislation once it reaches the Senate.

A selection of additional articles from the mainstream press on this issue may be accessed here, here and here, and covers both the Murdoch and Fairfax perspectives on the matter.

And we have spoken about the vaccination issue in this column once before, about 18 months ago. I urge all readers with an interest in this issue to reread my original article on it.

I’m not going to labour the point this evening; I suspect readers will have guessed from my silence this weekend I have been otherwise occupied, but I want to make a few general — albeit deadly salient — points in the context of this change.

The single greatest hook the anti-vax crowd has ever had to hang its rubbish on — the “study” by disgraced British doctor Andrew Wakefield linking the MMR vaccine to childhood autism — was motivated, not that the deadbeat advocates of anti-vaccination “skepticism” would care to admit, by a desire by the good Dr Wakefield to promote sales of a rival, measles-only vaccine produced by a company in which he held considerable investment interests.

That reality is a microcosm of the entire hypocrisy of the blather of powerful anti-vaccination advocates; on the one level, they are happy to leap on the suggestion that vaccines — any vaccine, in fact — might cause autism, despite the “research” drawing that link being thoroughly discredited and the link comprehensively disproven beyond doubt.

Yet they are happy to keep quiet about Dr Wakefield’s real motives — to promote vaccine sales — in a classic case of refusing to let facts get in the way of a good story.

A story is all it is; in the same breath, the overwhelming majority of the allegedly conscientious objectors to vaccination (read: people who think they know better than the best medical practitioners in the world) are nonetheless happy to back up for the miracles of modern medicine when there’s something wrong with them.

If their kids come down with whooping cough, they have the temerity to demand that the medical fraternity cures them quickly, cheaply, and without complication or consequence, despite having thumbed their noses at the safest, best, and most effective treatment medical science can offer: immunity from the infection in the first place.

And whilst it’s a tangential path that I don’t intend to divert too far along, those of the “conscientious” objectors who also spurn orthodox medicine at other times ought to be having something of a wake-up call this year, as assorted frauds and charlatans are exposed for the callous, sooth-saying rent seekers they are.

Belle Gibson and her “miracle” recovery from “terminal” cancer. The so-called “wellness warrior” who secretly accepted chemotherapy treatment when it was too late and at the time her cancer had all but killed her. On and on it goes. Yet there are just enough simpletons and gullible fools prepared to eschew scientific reality to oxygenate the fairy stories and myths peddled by such cruel and cavalier snake oil merchants.

Vaccination is not perfect; no science is. But it is exponentially preferable to the alternatives, such as they are.

Like any medicine, there is a tiny risk of adverse reaction; from itches and runny noses to febrile convulsions and severe allergic reactions, any medicine can cause these (and other) side effects.

Yet the proposed changes to accessibility to child welfare payments will account for these; any kid who experiences such a response will be provided with a medical exemption from vaccination, and that is reasonable.

But “fear” that a child might experience such a response is not grounds for exemption, and nor should it be; if you follow such specious logic to its inevitable conclusion, you’d never get out of bed in the morning.

Ironically, vaccines today are safer than they have ever been; although the countless millions saved from smallpox by a scrape of pus from a cow suffering cowpox in the early 1800s, or those prevented from dying of tetanus through an infusion containing horse blood, would scarcely have complained in the way the anti-vaccination lobby does now.

It’s true vaccines don’t protect everyone; some people’s immune systems simply don’t respond to them, or if they do, generate only partial immunity to the pathogen they are designed to protect against.

This is why the “herd immunity” conferred by 94% or higher being vaccinated is so critical; if the overwhelming majority of people experience efficacious immune responses to a vaccine, they won’t get the disease: and by not getting it themselves, it slashes the risk those who cannot be immunised for medical reasons (or in whom the vaccine doesn’t produce the response) can get infected too.

About the closest thing anti-vax advocates come to a meaningful argument against vaccines is the presence of thiomersal — a preservative containing of mercury — in the vaccines given to children.

Yes, mercury is a poison, that in the right circumstances can cause all manner of health problems in human beings, including mental retardation and death. But the mercury in thiomersal used in vaccines is present in trace amounts only, and reputable medical studies worldwide have been unable to prove it poses a health risk.

In any case, didn’t any of these parents ever get doused with mercurochrome in their own childhood, and live to tell the tale? There is more mercury present in mercurochrome solutions than there is in a vaccine, and that form of medicinal mercury is perfectly safe as well.

Seldom do I advocate what could in any way be construed as the “big hand of big brother” by those who would choose to regard it as such, and even rarer is my insistence that such an action is not only accceptable, but in the best interests of the public good.

But the expectation that parents vaccinate their children before they are then allowed to socialise and intermingle with their peers is perfectly reasonable, and I have no issue at all with a government withdrawing all forms of financial family aid from parents until such time as they do.

Here in Australia we have already seen waves of resurgent pertussis, or whooping cough, which is fast regaining a foothold in infant populations thanks to falling vaccination rates; pertussis has killed children in recent times in a series of high-profile cases, and in most of these the infection was passed from an unvaccinated adult or an adult whose immunity had lapsed.

This, in turn, is another argument of anti-vaxers that is easily shot to pieces: that with the protection offered by immunisation wearing off in time, the whole exercise is in fact a waste of time and money.

Solution? Get a booster shot. Simple. Cheap. And a damned side safer than bloody whooping cough, too.

The frightening thing is that as bad as whooping cough is — and has already killed Australian children, in an era when no child should die from an easily preventable disease — whooping cough is a relative cakewalk compared to some of the other nasties that might be the next cabs off the rank to make a reappearance in Australia.

We have already seen measles clusters appearing with more and more frequency; there are reports elsewhere in the world of the re-emergence of polio. And should diphtheria ever make a comeback, something like whooping cough would seem minor alongside such a dreadful and excruciatingly malevolent disease.

If you have children, it is a reasonable expectation you have those children vaccinated.

If you don’t — electing, therefore, not to allow your child to be a participant in Australian society — it is right and it is fair that payments for childcare, family based tax relief, and even the monetary bonus for completing child immunisation schedules (that, incredibly, continues to be paid to “conscientious” objectors) are all terminated.

There should be no provision for exemption based on religion: as Social Services minister Scott Morrison has said, there are no religions that have registered vaccination objections with the government, and anyone coming to this country must, as far as I am concerned, accept that the immunisation of children (and previously unvaccinated adults too, for that matter) is an expectation of Australian residents that is non-negotiable.

And insofar as any other objection is concerned, unless an individual child has a specific, life-threatening medical reason that is certified by an appropriately qualified medical practitioner, there should be none: “conscience” doesn’t cut it, when the consequences are in fact to aid and abet the spread of insidious diseases that ought to have been eradicated and which in fact only exist in the community at all because of falling vaccination rates.

There are those who will disagree, and to those people I say that they are entitled to their views.

They are also wrong, and nothing I have ever seen from so-called experts in the anti-vaxer lobby withstands even the most cursory scientific scrutiny.

It might be trendy — or “natural” — not to vaccinate your kid, and you might think you would never hurt him/her, or that your motives are the purest and best in the world.

You might also be one of those people who simply don’t care about the (infinitesimal) risk of side-effects other kids might experience from a vaccine so long as they don’t happen to your kid, and that other people’s kids can achieve the “herd immunity” on your behalf that will protect your own little Johnny/Dora, and if this summarises your outlook then frankly you don’t deserve to have children at all, let alone the money the government is about to terminate your access to.

As adults in society, we have an obligation to those too young to decide for themselves, or take action in their own best interests: and in this case, making sure children have all the recommended vaccines for their various stages are development is one of the best ways we can do this, helping to ensure that when they reach adulthood they will have the opportunity to make similar decisions for their own kids themselves.

And as food for thought for the do-gooder types who don’t bother to vaccinate their kids, what will you say to them if — in their 20s — they go off to explore the world and pick up diphtheria, or polio, or God-knows-what in some far-flung third world outpost simply because you were derelict in your negligence of them as a child?


I think what has been announced is long overdue. No jab, no play, and now no pay.

There will be those who will jib; there always is. But on this occasion — happily, and in the best interests of at least all the other kids, if not their own — the view of those people no longer carries any official weight at all, and will no longer be indulged with stipends of taxpayer money made dependent on courses of action they have no intention of undertaking.

Measles Scare: Time To Crack Down On Vaccine Refusers

THE LATEST THREAT of a massive public measles exposure — this time at Melbourne’s Chadstone Shopping Centre, for goodness’ sake — signals time to crack down once and for all on so-called “conscientious” objectors to vaccination; these people are a risk to the general population, and whilst new policy initiatives are welcome, they do not go anywhere near far enough. It is time to stop messing around with a dangerous public health menace.

It isn’t often that I advocate the total removal of choice for individuals, with an absolute zero-tolerance approach to enforcement; the growing problem of outright refusal by some people to vaccinate their children is an exception I am happy to make, however: the alternative is a resurgence in diseases that have been all but eradicated, and measles is simply the thin edge of the wedge.

I’m not going to make any apologies for being blunt about this, or for not mincing my words; the anti-vaccine lobby is an insidious public health menace, propped up and actively supported by so-called “conscientious objectors” whose actions (or in this case, lack of action) have the capacity to endanger thousands of others at a stroke.

And frankly — as a parent of two fully immunised children — to hell with the alleged special circumstances of their own dear brats by which they attempt to justify the unjustifiable.

To my mind, the news that a measles-infected man wandered around Chadstone Shopping Centre for three hours on Boxing Day — represents the point at which a line must be drawn, and for government in this country to decree that enough is enough: we’re not talking about a visit to the corner shop here, not that that would be acceptable in the circumstances, either: this is the largest shopping centre in Australia on the busiest retail trading day of the year.

This year, 100,000 people flocked to Chadstone on Boxing Day: almost certainly, a large number of these people will have been visiting from interstate or overseas; almost certainly, therefore, someone exposed to the man mentioned in news reports today will have spread the disease beyond Chadstone, beyond Melbourne, and beyond Victoria — where it can percolate and spread in another community altogether.

This is how mass epidemics of disease begin, and with Australia’s overall vaccination rates falling — largely thanks to the efforts of the so-called Australian Vaccination Network, and other enemies of the public good like them — diseases that should have been all but wiped out of existence in Australia are beginning to find fresh footholds in the broader population.

To some extent, it doesn’t really matter where this particular infection source originated; the report I’ve shared here talks about a dance competition in NSW about a month ago; sooner or later, the availability of a colossal population of prospective virus hosts  (which is what the 100,000 at Chadstone represents) is going to intersect with that infection as it spreads — and when that occurs, the illness may spread like wildfire.

It’s the same principle that people in Brisbane often describe, when they talk about the “Ekka” — Brisbane’s annual show — signalling the start of the `flu season every year. A highly contagious virus and a huge body of people for it to circulate among in a very short period of time.

And make no mistake, measles is infectious.

Whilst most people recover fully, complications such as pneumonia and encephalitis make this a vicious disease that must be stamped out at all costs, and a horrible way to die for a small number of the unfortunate people who experience them.

Fears over the safety of the MMR vaccine predominantly used in Australia and elsewhere in the world may — may — have justified reticence around that particular vaccine for a time. Even so, separate vaccines for measles and rubella have always been available, and in any case, the British scientist whose research established the “link” between MMR has long been discredited, his thesis that MMR causes Autism disproven, and his professional reputation deservedly ruined.

The MMR debacle, however, has had effects that have lingered well beyond the debunking of the myth surrounding it, and these will in all likelihood continue to do so: fodder nonetheless, if dubious, for the likes of the Australian Vaccination Network to scare the bejeesus out of anyone stupid or scared enough to listen to it.

I read recently that the vaccination rates for Australian children now sits at about 85%; the vaccination strategy in place within Australia’s health networks relies on a principle called herd immunity — which, to be effective, requires vaccination rates of about 94% or higher.

Vaccination rates are as low as 43% in some areas on the northern NSW coast; and before anyone suggests Byron Bay/Nimbin etc can be excused on the basis they’re full of hippies, druggies, alternative lifestyles and so forth, I would simply point out these people don’t have any trouble putting their hand out when they want something — and so they should be prepared to accept the responsibility along with the benefits.

Part of the problem derives from so-called conscientious objectors, whose selfish arguments boil down to the fact that whilst all medicines — including vaccines — carry risks, their cavalier position is that these risks should be taken by everyone else except for them and their own children.

I have no time for this mentality, the eventual consequences of which are a breakdown in herd immunity and outbreaks of diseases such as measles.

Aside from anything else, “conscientious” objectors are making decisions on behalf of their children they have no right to make, putting as they do the lives of those children at risk.

Indeed, there is ample evidence that many of these unvaccinated children aren’t even told of their status, and only find out in later life when they come down with something they should never have been put at risk of exposure to in the first place.

But all this pales into insignificance compared to the so-called Australian Vaccination Network, an organisation so named as to be deliberately misleading, and masquerading as a public health awareness service to boot.

Or rather, it was; the NSW Department of Fair Trading last year ordered this odious entity to find a new name, and its first “attempt” to do so — Australian Vaccination – Sceptics Network — isn’t much better. Happily, that was knocked back too. The attitude of some of its office bearers is quite telling, reeking of contempt for efforts to stop them peddling misinformation and risking public safety.

This organisation — call itself whatever it eventually will — promotes the “health benefits” of measles, when there are no known health benefits of measles.

One of the news reports I’ve linked to here notes they promote a product called black salve as a cancer cure — to which I would respond that if it were anything of the kind, the medical and pharmaceutical professions would be all over it like a fly on a turd. They’re not.

Next it will be recommendations to hang wreaths off doors to ward off the plague…

And whilst measles and whooping cough — in most cases — might not be fatal to the bulk of unfortunate people who suffer them, if the next “nasty” to make a comeback was something like diphtheria or polio, it will make suffering measles or pertussis seem like a walk in the park: even if, of course, they are anything but.

I wonder how many fines of $500,000 per offence for deliberately false and misleading conduct it might take, theoretically, for the Australian Vaccination Network — or whatever it ends up calling itself (noting “Flat Earth Society” is already taken, but “Knuckledraggers Inc” might not be) — to come to its senses. Not many, I’d wager.

But back to where we began.

With measles having now verifiably been circulated at Chadstone on Boxing Day, it mandates a get-tough approach to a problem that will only worsen without it.

Already, whooping cough (pertussis) is at epidemic proportions in some parts of the country, and for largely the same reason measles is now becoming such a problem for public health officials.

I do make the point that some of these vaccinations wear off over time; and in any case, their efficacy is such that not every person vaccinated will receive the same immunological response.

These are simply more compelling reasons for vaccination to be universal in the first place; perhaps a public campaign for a program of booster vaccinations for young adults would represent judicious expenditure of government health monies.

But the real problem, to be sure, is with childhood vaccination — and ensuring it is universal.

I note the NSW government has introduced a “no jab, no play” law which came into effect on Wednesday, stipulating that children who have not been properly vaccinated cannot be allowed to attend kindergartens, preschools and the like.

The only exemptions are on religious or medical grounds. There is no tolerance for “conscientious” objectors. Those who have simply fallen behind on their vaccine schedule are excused only if they can show medical evidence they have commenced an immunisation schedule to bring their children up to date.

I don’t think this goes far enough.

I think — in addition to kindergarten — that school, too, should be banned for non-immunised parents; access to passports withdrawn; welfare payments to families with non-immunised children cancelled; and access to Medicare rebates suspended until vaccinations have been satisfactorily completed.

Any migrant or asylum seeker coming to Australia should be barred from doing so until they either produce evidence of a vaccination history, or undergo a full vaccination schedule prior to being permitted entry to this country.

And to be completely honest, given what’s at stake, I don’t really have much truck with “religious exemptions” either: with no disrespect intended to those whose faith might preclude them from vaccination, their kids are just as much a target for lethal diseases as anyone else, and are every bit as likely, in probability, to contract them.

Zero tolerance, I say. Time to crack down on the scourge of anti-immunisation idiots, for their own good as much as for the protection of those with a little more sense. And without a genuine, valid medical pretext for abstention, that should include everybody: no ifs, no buts.


GP Visits: Just Stop The Silliness Over A $5 Co-Payment

IT SEEMS CLEAR — using the trusty political principle that a controlled leak is the best way to announce something — that in the 2014 federal budget, the Abbott government will introduce a $5 co-payment on bulk-billed GP visits to help repair the country’s finances and to discourage “doctor shopping” and oversupply. It mightn’t be ideal but it is responsible: whether it is or isn’t, a dose of perspective is required — especially where the ALP is concerned.

I guess it’s a modern phenomenon and a reality of the proliferation of social media that as I set out to write this piece, I’ve had an argument with someone I don’t know — and who doesn’t know me — over this issue on Facebook; I already knew this would be an explosive political issue if improperly handled, and that brief exchange proved it.

The news (and I think we can call it “news,” despite Abbott government “refusals to speculate” on the matter) that the Commission of Audit charged with identifying budget savings will recommend the introduction of a $5 co-payment for bulk-billed visits to a general practitioner — and that that recommendation will be adopted — represents what is obviously not an ideal scenario, but a responsible and reasonable one nonetheless.

Like any controversial change to long-established procedure, this one has positives and negatives, but before we get to those, there is one key point that simply must be hammered home: whether by me in this column, or by the Abbott government figures charged with implementing and selling it.

That, very simply, is that the introduction of a $5 co-payment for a GP visit is not a health policy change: it is an impost to help fix an ungodly economic quagmire, created and presided over by the Rudd-Gillard-Rudd government and represented as far milder than its official presentation in government documentation admitted, and bequeathed to the new Liberal government — which must either fix the Commonwealth budget, and quickly, or risk Australia sinking into the same European-style debt crisis that has virtually bankrupted several once-mighty members of the EU bloc.

And it has to be hammered home because this is not an assault on health, or an evil scheme to rob “the poor” of their health services, or some miserly and doctrinaire policy from a conservative government to demolish Medicare; it is one of a series of measures to fix the federal budget, which is unsustainable as a result of mismanagement by the last Labor government.

The fact that it is already known that pensioners and health care card holders will be exempted altogether from paying the new $5 fee should take an awful lot of the wind from the sails of those who seek to make mischief out of it for petty political purposes. The fact families will be given an exemption for the first 12 consultations each year should disperse even more of it.

Wild predictions of the imminent demise of Medicare and the eternal bogey of “a step towards a two-tiered US-style health system and away from universal healthcare” — always bandied around with such enthusiasm by the Communist Party Greens and the Labor Party should be recognised as just that: wild, and wildly irresponsible at that.

It is true the policy is being crafted with one eye on discouraging the practice of so-called “doctor shopping,” which is to be applauded.

It is also aimed at reducing oversupply: not just by people with runny noses or itchy toenails turning up at GP clinics for consultations (and prescriptions) that will make no difference to their condition, but also by doctors who forward book multiple “progress” consultations that could as easily be handled by a practice nurse, or to pocket a second payment for spending 90 seconds providing the results of completely normal pathology tests, or similar pretexts to charge patients unnecessarily (although I have no problem with a doctor — with abnormal test results in hand — insisting on seeing a patient; in such a scenario it would be negligent not to do so).

A $5 co-payment also reflects the rather brutal reality of an ageing population that the raw total number of GP visits is increasing rapidly — with fewer and fewer people paying the Medicare levy to fund them.

But like any change of this nature, there will be those who are impacted, and for the record my own family may well fit that category. But I return to the point that the change is one of a raft of measures that will soon be implemented to close a yawning chasm in the national accounts that is sucking in foreign money — and racking up debt — at the rate of a billion dollars a week, and that the alternative scenario of the country defaulting on loans and having creditors call in their money is a far more worrisome prospect than being forced to part with $5 to see a doctor.

And it isn’t the abolition of bulk billing; with the gap between Medicare rebates and standard consultation fees currently sitting at an average $36, $5 is hardly an impost to split hairs over.

Doctors’ Reform Society head Dr Con Costa has said that the introduction of a co-payment would result in heavier traffic through the emergency departments of public hospitals, whilst Australian Medical Association president Dr Steve Hambleton has correctly pointed out that public hospital emergency departments are a more expensive forum in which to see general practice than GP clinics.

I would suggest these gentlemen have overlooked one very big handbrake on the problem they identify: the triage system in place in most public hospitals in this country, where incoming patients are assessed by highly qualified nursing staff and assigned a category ranking from 1 to 5, with 1 being a life-threatening emergency requiring immediate attention and 5 being…well, something that can wait.

I think that most people in category 4 or 5, after their first couple of experiences of waiting three or four hours or longer, will quickly decide it’s not worth quibbling over $5, and go to see their GP the next time a minor medical niggle strikes.

All that aside, however — and to put it bluntly — there is already too much bullshit floating around over this. It is irresponsible and counterproductive, and it should stop.

The Labor Party — ever ready to deploy the cheapest and pettiest of political tactics to score points, quickly waded into the fray yesterday, describing the co-payment as “a tax on taking sick children to the doctor,” which quite plainly, it isn’t.

Senator Penny Wong (who is apparently acting opposition leader at present) described the proposal as a “real problem” despite the real problem being the mess her government made of the books — a Labor legacy which Wong, as Finance minister under Julia Gillard, has some nerve in seeking to deflect responsibility for.

“What we don’t need is a new tax on taking your family to the doctor and what we don’t need is more pressure on our public hospital system,” Wong was quoted in the Fairfax press as saying — and the theme of “clogged” hospitals seems to be one the ALP is readying to run hard on: it’s cheap and easy to spout that kind of rubbish, but it ignores the likely corrective impact of the category 4/5 scenario I have described.

Apparently, according to Wong, the co-payment is also a dastardly, sinister new tax that was dreamed up by the Liberal Party in advance of the September election and hidden from public view: this theory is absolute rubbish, of course, but the ALP has never been an entity to allow the truth to get in the way of its petty political point scoring efforts.

And of course — according to Wong — the status of the co-payment as a hidden tax makes it “a broken election promise.”

This kind of is thing certain to be ramped up in the weeks ahead, and it shouldn’t be. Certainly, a bit of perspective wouldn’t go astray.

As I said to the person who tried to slap me down on Facebook,  the hot air and bullshit factory at the ALP is so obsessed with petty politics to cover its own incompetence as to be utterly divorced from the very realities it seeks to stir up trouble over, and this issue is no exception.

There are good reasons why the nation’s health budget consumes more taxpayer dollars than any other government department (except welfare): it is money well spent on essential services that affect every person living in this country; of course it is an emotive issue — a fact Labor has been using to underpin ridiculous fear campaigns against the Liberal Party for decades — but irresponsible and dishonest ranting with the explicit and sole purpose of causing political mayhem (and at further actual cost to the country) is at best pointless, and at worst downright reprehensible.

Just stop the silliness over paying $5 to see a doctor. There are far less distasteful issues for Labor to act like grubs over if they choose to do so. Recognise this for what it is: something to help keep the rest of the vast array of Medicare services free. The measure might not be ideal, and those without exemptions might not like having to pay it, but the very real alternatives if the budget problem isn’t addressed, in the not too distant future, will have people clamouring to cough up their $5 in hindsight: even if, by then, it would all be too late.



Upset The Left’s Gravy Train? Abbott Must Derail It

CALLS FOR TONY ABBOTT and his government to start taking tough remedial action where the state of Australia’s cesspit of governance and expenditure are concerned are gathering strength in the mainstream press; it may make 2014 a tough year in Australia, but the opportunity to fix the mess this country was left in by the Labor Party is there for the Coalition to take. If it doesn’t do this early in its term in office, it never will.

The legacy of six years of Labor government in Australia is everywhere; it is a cancer that needs to be cut out.

This is the job Tony Abbott and his Liberal government were elected to do, and whilst I think it’s premature to jump all over a few iffy poll findings — and only a complete fool would pay any heed to the frantic narrative of conservative incompetence the ALP and its “leader,” Bill Shorten, are desperately trying to pull together from a handful of teething problems — the clamour from more composed voices for tougher action to be taken is increasing in volume.

I’ve read the morning newspapers this morning, and the article that stands out is one from a favourite of this column, the Sydney Daily Telegraph‘s Piers Akerman, who calls for Abbott to upset the Left’s gravy train; whilst I agree completely with Piers’ sentiments and can’t fault his arguments or his logic, he doesn’t go far enough: far from merely upsetting the cart, Abbott has to drive it off the tracks once and for all.

The targets — so blindingly obvious they put anything the Whitlam government ever did to shame — are everywhere.

Akerman makes an extremely valid point in his assessment of the quality of economic “management” rendered by the Rudd-Gillard-Rudd government and its utterly useless, self-important, cretinous specimen of a Treasurer in Wayne Swan, especially where its knee-jerk stimulus spending in the face of the so-called Global Financial crisis was concerned.

And his analogy of Labor “telling (its) followers that Australia was better off than Greece or Portugal when those countries were on their knees was insulting” is right on the money: readers will have heard me say often enough that to get debt levels to 100% of GDP and to achieve the basket case status some European countries now endure, those levels must first pass through 10%, 20%, 30%…the ALP inherited a debt to GDP position from the Howard government of -10% which it blew out to 20% by racking up $300bn in expenditures that the recent Mid Year Economic and Fiscal Outlook (MYEFO) found would increase to more than 35% purely on the strength of additional and recurrent spending initiatives legislated by the ALP before it was thrown out of office.

At some point, the line was always going to have to be drawn on how much money should be thrown at car manufacturers, and Akerman is correct to assert that throwing yet more good money after bad to basically blackmail Holden into delaying the inevitable “would have been adding to Labor’s waste and pandering to the featherbedding trade unions.” As I have said in this column before, also, increasing subsidies to the car industry is to subsidise union-crafted bargaining agreements and their capacity to suck in additional funds to increase the pay of their members faster than government can throw them.

Something had to give. And I would remind readers — again — that Holden’s decision to abandon manufacturing in Australia was made months ago (unless people really are gullible enough to believe PR from GMH to the contrary, as late as the day of the official announcement), a reality over which the Labor Party is nowhere to be seen when it comes to owning any responsibility for it.

To share a quick personal anecdote, in 2008 my wife and I drove a Vauxhall Vectra around the United Kingdom for a month, racking up some 2,300 miles in it. It was identical to the Vectras sold in Australia apart from the badge on the grille. I decided I wanted one, and so the day after we arrived back in Melbourne we went to the local Holden dealership in Brighton to buy one.

The “salesperson” at the dealership could scarcely have been more honest, succinct, or helpful: he told us the Vectra had been discontinued recently in Australia and showed us a new Holden Epica, told us it was made in Korea and that it was “a piece of shit,” and suggested we go next door to Brighton Toyota and buy a Camry. So we did. Whilst not disputing that a Camry is made in Australia (and isn’t the best vehicle on the road, either), the incident neatly encapsulates Holden’s approach to new vehicle sales in Australia, its emphasis on inferior imported product, and probably can be taken as a signpost to the company’s likely local sales profile in the not too distant future.

Why would we pay Holden more money to build cars here? The suggestion is outrageous.

And this is where Akerman and I accord on what he terms the “handout mentality”: even after shovelling all that money out to Holden, its strategy appeared to be a rationalisation of passenger models in favour of the lowest-cost imports that would maximise profits even in 2008. Locally made Commodores haven’t been the commercial success they once were for many years. But as long as the tap of government monies remained open, the unions could rip the system off for their mates members at the expense of every taxpayer and business in Australia.

It’s the same story over at the renewable energy industry, where tens of billions of dollars have been pissed up against a post in the euphemistic name of “clean energy” — with the result that selected and preferred industries have become rich and fat whilst the most abundant reserves in the world of cheap fuels lie untapped in the ground and whilst average households are forced to pay $2,000 and $3,000 per year for basic necessities like electricity and gas.

And whilst the real thrust of Piers’ piece is based on manufacturing and energy, the simple truth is that the malaise he alludes to is much, much wider than that in its scope: it affects virtually everything.

Speaking of the “handout mentality,” it’s long been an article of faith in some quarters on the Right (including here) that the welfare spend of the Commonwealth is another area infected by it; not everyone on welfare is a bludger or a crook, mind, but the numbers aren’t encouraging either.

In round terms, the number of people on the Disability Support Pension rose during Labor’s term of office, from 300,000 to 850,000; at the same time, unemployment ticked up from 4.9% when Labor took office in 2007 to just 5.8% when it was kicked out six years later. The appearance is one suspiciously suggestive of the DSP having been used as a tool by Labor to hide real unemployment from the official figures, especially at a time marked mostly by tenuous economic conditions.

Then again, with some leading disability advocates suggesting that 900,000 people living in Victoria alone are “disabled” in some way — well over 15% of the state’s total population — it’s not difficult to play connect-the-dots in terms of ulterior motives associated with Labor’s much trumpeted (and entirely unaffordable) National Disability Insurance Scheme.

Which, of course, falls to taxpayers (or foreign debt) to fund.

In fact, $16bn could be saved at a stroke by abolishing the NDIS and the Gonski educational reforms, which sound like a great idea like the NDIS does, but just like the disability scheme are unfunded and unaffordable.

We talked about education in this column yesterday; since then, one reader made the comment that education spending in dollar terms does not equate to results, whilst another commented that spending isn’t the problem — the curriculum and the competence of those charged with teaching it are key. It may enrage the Left to say it, but not every cut to a government budget will disadvantage those it seeks to frighten witless if a proper emphasis on value for money and outcomes is placed on those expenditures that remain in place.

I’ve recently said that Tony Abbott’s paid parental leave scheme — fully funded and costed as it might be — is probably not a good look, and should either be scaled back or quietly dropped. (I think the First Home Buyers’ Grant is a Howard era program that has outlived its use-by date, too: it doesn’t cover rocketing stamp duty costs, it doesn’t cover the legals it was originally intended to cover, but it has succeeded in distorting the property market and contributed to driving house prices through the roof).

But returning to the monuments and citadels and tokens of the Left, I wrote a piece earlier this year about an odious and entirely unnecessary government-funded QANGO called FECCA, which runs at a loss and eats up at least a half a million dollars of taxpayer money each year whilst doing nothing more useful than churning out politically correct socialist propaganda designed to pander to minorities and crucify the majority.

It is the nature of the beast when it comes to Labor governments (and especially one held to ransom by the Greens) that where there is one of these contemptible propaganda factories subsisting on the taxpayer teat, there are dozens and dozens of others. Abbott and Hockey should not be sentimental in either shutting them down or forcing them to rattle the charity tin by withdrawing their funding in total.

The ABC — so blatantly a mouthpiece for the agenda of the Left to the point it simply fails to mention an increasing volume of news items prejudicial to that agenda — is ripe for reform, and I would go so far as to suggest that it be privatised: if the ABC’s output is indicative of what it thinks will attract the commercial support to sustain it, then I say it should be subjected to a market determination of the relevance and integrity of that output, which will end the burden on taxpayers of propping up what has become little more than an ideology factory.

Foreign aid budgets should not be abolished as some advocate, but should be trimmed to pre-2008 levels in real terms; with the damage done to the country’s finances, the kind of largesse set in train in this area by the Labor Party simply can’t be justified.

And it goes without saying that a serious reappraisal of Australia’s financial relationship with the United Nations — engorged and abused by the ALP to curry favour with unfriendly governments to secure a seat on the Security Council that will make no difference to UN outcomes by virtue of the sheer weight of numbers of the other 14 nations that sit on it — must be undertaken as a matter of urgency.

(In fact, a reappraisal altogether of some of the things this country’s obligations under United Nations treaties impose is also a long overdue exercise, but I digress).

I could continue, but the point is pretty obvious.

At the end of the day, every aspect of Australian governance, industry, business and society that was touched by the previous government has been afflicted: and as I said at the outset, this affliction is a cancer of mismanagement that must be excised if the country is to again emerge as the world-leading entity it so richly and rightly should be.

Abbott’s government must govern, and it must take the hard decisions required to correct these and other symptoms of the Labor disease. Properly communicated and sold to an electorate that installed the Liberal Party in office to do precisely that, the political benefits will flow in the longer run — even if the going gets rough early on.

Akerman is right. The Gravy Train of the Left should indeed be upset. But rather than stop there it must be derailed altogether, with a firm eye on ensuring any rescue mission in later years by a future ALP government is, by the nature of its intent and by the will of the public, irretrievably doomed to fail.