Sabtu, 31 Mei 2014

Tony Abbott indicates he is open to 'refining' GP co-payment



Prime Minister Tony Abbott at Australian Book Industry Awards in Sydney Photo: Prime Minister Tony Abbott has indicated he is open to negotiating the proposed GP co-payment. (AAP Image: Daniel Munoz)

Related Story: PM Tony Abbott can't be trusted in negotiations: Greens

Prime Minister Tony Abbott has indicated he is open to the "refinement" of the GP co-payment for medical visits - a key component of his Government's budget measures.

After preliminary discussions with some cross-benchers Mr Abbott says he is confident the budget will pass and appeared open to negotiations.

"Governments get their budgets through, that's what governments do. And sometimes there might be a little bit of refinement here and refinement there but budgets are passed by the Parliament ... that's what I'm expecting," Mr Abbott said on Saturday.

Under the budget's proposed changes, bulk-billed patients will have to pay a $7 fee to visit the GP, have an X-ray, scan or a blood test. The Government says the fee will save $3.4 billion over five years.

The Government says the majority of the money raised from the fee will be directed into a new medical research fund that is expected to grow to $20 billion by 2020.

Health Minister Peter Dutton indicated last week that the Government was not open to negotiations on the price of the co-payment or any possible exemptions.

The Opposition is now accusing the Prime Minister of a "backflip".

"Just one week ago Tony Abbott said he would never surrender when it came to his budget measures. And today he has done a total backflip," Labor frontbencher Kate Ellis said.

While the Government is negotiating with incoming cross-bench senators, Greens leader Christine Milne has ruled out giving any ground on the co-payment.

"We are not going to help Tony Abbott put lipstick on the pig that is his budget," she said.

The Government is likely to wait for the new Senate in July before putting the co-payments plan to the Parliament.

With Labor and the Greens united in opposition in the Senate, the Government will need to ask the Palmer United Party for support.

A spokesman for party leader Clive Palmer says if that is the case, the policy needs more than just a little refinement.

Budget to come under scrutiny at Senate estimates

Meanwhile, opposition scrutiny of the Abbott Government's first budget will step up when Treasury secretary Martin Parkinson faces questions at a Senate estimates hearings next week.

Dr Parkinson will appear at an economics committee hearing on Wednesday where he and other Treasury officials will be grilled.

Over four days, the committee will look at spending on science agencies, industry assistance, renewable energy, competition and consumer issues, as well as budget assumptions on revenue and key economic figures.

The Senate community affairs committee will probe health and hospital spending, the proposed Medicare co-payment and the future of GP super clinics on Monday and Tuesday.

It will then turn its attention to social services, the National Disability Insurance Scheme and proposed changes to family benefits, the dole and pensions.

On Thursday, the Government's $22 billion paid parental leave scheme and aged care will come under the microscope.

Education and employment estimates hearings will kick off on Monday looking at the workplace relations system and the restoration of the building industry watchdog.

Over the following three days they will explore assistance to the unemployed, child care, funding for schools and TAFE colleges and the deregulation of university fees.

Defence Force chiefs will front the foreign affairs, defence and trade committee on Monday as it probes military spending and recent scandals in the Australian Defence Force (ADF).

Foreign aid, global climate change talks, trade deals and tourism will be on the agenda on Wednesday and Thursday.

In the house, debate will resume on the paid parental leave scheme on Monday and the Government may introduce some more budget-related legislation later in the week.


Tony Abbott indicates he is open to 'refining' GP co-payment in budget negotiations - ABC News (Australian Broadcasting Corporation)

Kamis, 29 Mei 2014

Abbott free to push his North Shore politics


By Nigel Bowen

Abbott on the campaign Photo: Tony Abbott pounds the pavement in the Liberal Party heartland of Sydney's North Shore. (Tracey Nearmy: AAP)

Unless the inner-city leftists can get the Western Sydney types back on side, Tony Abbott will be left free to push measures that benefit his North Shore constituents to the detriment of others, writes Nigel Bowen.

Post budget, entire episodes of Q&A have passed without a single question from the audience about same-sex unions and the newspapers are full of hard-luck stories rather than think pieces about transphobia.

Could it be the Left is on the verge of re-engaging with bread-and-butter distributional issues?

There are not a lot of parallels between my life and Tony Abbott's but as luck would have it we were both raised in the upper middle class milieu of Sydney's North Shore.

Before proceeding further I should point out that Abbott's current neighbourhood and my former one, while Liberal Party heartland, is neither monolithically conservative nor affluent. The area is neither devoid of low to middle income earners nor people with left-of-centre views - the likes of Tim Freedman, Peter Garrett and Mike Carlton, for example, are all past or current residents.

That noted, I believe it's fair to say Abbott is, to an extent yet to be fully appreciated, a product of his environment and that his first budget faithfully reflects what might be labelled the North Shore worldview.

In brief, such a Weltanschauung can be boiled down to the following fundamentals: the ALP are incompetent socialists who will invariably blow up the economy whenever they gain control of the Treasury benches; public servants are bludgers; unions are a dangerous scourge; the average worker is indolent at best and dishonest at worst and welfare recipients are scroungers who should pull themselves up by the bootstraps.

Of course, such an outlook is hardly confined to Sydney's North Shore. Both throughout Australia and in many other countries, it's the default position of those who are well-positioned enough to opt out of the public system themselves and resent having to shell out to provide health and education services, as well as welfare and old-age pensions for the improvident lower orders.

While displaying a Google-like ingenuity at using negatively geared property, family trusts and self-managed super funds to minimise his or her tax, your North Shorian (both actual and honorary) remains all too painfully aware they are getting a bad deal. And he or she is not accustomed to being on the losing side of a transaction.

The point of this piece isn't to debate the merits or otherwise of this Ayn Randesque mindset - North Shorians vote for their economic interests, as would be expected. The interesting issue is that in the last seven federal elections enough non-North Shorians - many of them unionists, public servants, low to middle income employees and welfare recipients - have voted for the Coalition to give it an impressive five wins/one draw/one loss record.

Both Abbott and I grew up in simpler times when it was assumed that Westies (both actual and honorary) would support Labor. Indeed, the notion they'd embrace the Liberal Party seemed to make as much sense as Penrith Panthers fans burning their club jerseys and opting to barrack for the Manly Sea Eagles or embrace rugby union.

To make sense of this political development we need to introduce a third grouping into the equation, many of them the upwardly mobile offspring of Westies or the downwardly mobile ones of North Shorians.

As is frequently observed, Inner City Types, while lacking the demographic heft of the Westies or the economic muscle of the North Shorians, are disproportionately represented among the ranks of progressive activists, ALP and Green politicians, public servants, academics, artists and, ahem, journalists.

As is also frequently observed, for the last three decades Inner City Types have had little interest in the meat and potato distributional issues of politics, preferring to devote their time and energy to causes that either have a direct bearing on people like them (i.e. seeking to ensure that well-educated, middle to upper-middle class women have the same career opportunities as well-educated, middle to upper middle class men) or relate to appealingly exotic oppressed groups (i.e. Indigenous Australians, East Timorese, Tibetans, Palestinians, boatpeople, transsexuals).

That the Westies - increasing numbers of whom were dealing with mortgage stress, job insecurity and four hour commutes to work - failed to show the appropriate concern for those experiencing Third World Problems, or saw them as competitors for scarce resources, was taken by Inner City Types as proof of their irredeemably reactionary boganism.

Of course, while the Left has been otherwise engaged the Right has been busily reversing many of the hard-won progressive victories achieved from the time of the Great Depression until the overturning of the post-war Keynesian settlement at the beginning of the 1980s.

The Coalition has now started in on undermining the social wage, which was meant to be the pay-off to non-North Shorians for the painful neo-liberal restructuring of the economy under Hawke-Keating, and which was largely maintained by the populist Howard.

If the Coalition wins a second term - and post-war history suggests a conservative federal government can expect at least three terms and possibly up to nine - deregulating the industrial relations system will undoubtedly be next on the agenda.

In much the same way Inner City Types are given to gazing wistfully at the Nordic social democracies, North Shorians admire the US, a nation where the wealth creator is venerated.

Unless the Inner City Types can rethink their political priorities and get the Westies on side, Abbott, long dismissed as "some kind of old-fashioned DLP pseudo-socialist" by observers ranging from Peter Costello to Mark Latham, looks set to Americanise Australia in a way that benefits his own North Shore constituents while imposing significant hardship on those less well located.

Nigel Bowen is a freelance journalist who writes about politics and pop culture among other topics. View his full profile here.

Abbott free to push his North Shore politics - The Drum (Australian Broadcasting Corporation)

Government to chase HECS debts from dead students' estates


By political reporter Latika Bourke

Video: Who said what about higher education debts (ABC News)

Joe Hockey and Tony Abbott Photo: Mixed message: Treasurer Joe Hockey and Prime Minister Tony Abbott (AAP)

Related Story: Fact Check: Pyne's graduate earnings claim overblown

Related Story: Fact Check: Charging interest on student loans

Prime Minister Tony Abbott has quashed suggestions the Government will collect higher education loan debts from dead people's estates, but appears at odds with two of his most senior ministers.

Education Minister Christopher Pyne has told the Australian Financial Review he has "no ideological opposition" to collecting debts from the estates of students who have died.

Treasurer Joe Hockey has backed the idea, saying HECS debts should not be quarantined.

"It shouldn't be treated any differently to any other loan that is applied whether it be a mortgage or anything else," he told reporters in Canberra this morning.

"And the idea that you’re going to have parents, or brothers or sisters are going to have to pay it is ridiculous, again more scares from Labor.

What is the current policy?
  • A trustee or executor needs to lodge all outstanding tax returns on behalf of a deceased person, up to the date of the person’s death.
  • Any compulsory repayment included on a notice of assessment that relates to the period before the person’s death must be paid from the estate, but the remainder of the accumulated debt is cancelled.
  • Neither the deceased person’s family nor the trustee is required to pay the rest of the accumulated HELP debt.

Source: Study Assist

"It's only against the estate of the individual. It's not going to go across families and so on.

"That's the same as any other loan, any other mortgage we have in our lives."

But, speaking almost at the same time, Mr Abbott told ABC NewsRadio he would not be changing the current system.

"I want to make it absolutely crystal clear this Government is not going to change the existing rules," he said.

"And the existing rule in respect of university debts, fee help debts, HECS debts, is that they cease, they cease, on decease, as it were."

MPs arriving at Parliament house have been quizzed about the proposal.

Nationals MP Andrew Broad backed the idea of collecting HECS debts from graduates who have died.

'Right budget for the times'

Prime Minister Tony Abbott tells ABC NewsRadio's Marius Benson the Government will not change existing rules around HECS-HELP loans.


"It's a loan with the government and it should be treated the same as every other loan... that's consistent," he said.

"It's not mean-spirited; I think it’s fair enough."

But Cabinet minister Bruce Billson said the Government had "no plans" to amend the system.

"We have no plans to change those debt recovery arrangements," he told reporters at Parliament House.

He said the Government was more focused on collecting HECS debts from graduates who work overseas and do not pay taxes in Australia.

"We are in discussions through a dialogue with the UK for example about how we might interact with overseas governments where students from Australia, with a HECS debt, may be living in another country."

Labor is attacking both the scotched policy and the Federal Government's mixed messages.

"It is the height of meanness for this Government to be proposing what Christopher Pyne said yesterday," Opposition Leader Bill Shorten told reporters in Canberra.

"But it shows what disarray this Government and their unfair budget is in.

"Christopher Pyne and Joe Hockey say one thing, then out rushes the Prime Minister to smack down his senior minister within half an hour.

"Coalition thought bubbles don't even last 30 minutes anymore."

Pre-budget leaking strategy questioned

Meanwhile, another federal MP has joined in criticising the Government's budget strategy and the selective leaking of what was in and out in the weeks leading up to budget night.

Queensland LNP MP Teresa Gambaro says the electorate is "traumatised" after six years of Labor and as a result it is more crucial the Coalition does a better job of explaining what it is doing and why.

"We have to do better in communicating to the Australian people exactly what we are doing and how and why we are cleaning up Labor's mess," Ms Gambaro told Parliament today.

The Member for Brisbane hit out at what she describes as the "cat-and-mouse" game of pre-budget leaks, which both sides have employed.

"I am already on the public record as saying the Government needs to stop playing a cat-and-mouse game with the Australian public as to what is in and what is not in the budget.

"People are sick of these games. They have been played by all sides of politics for far too long.

"There has to be a better process where we have closer integration between the Parliament and the executive in the development of the budget and the reporting of these processes should be formulated in the future to provide certainty," she said.

It follows criticism from Ms Gambaro's Queensland colleague Senator Ian Macdonald, who said he was astonished at the Government's strategy.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott rules out chasing HECS debts from dead students' estates - ABC News (Australian Broadcasting Corporation)

Selasa, 27 Mei 2014

Speaker 'bullied' by Labor over fundraising claims: Christopher Pyne


Lenore Taylor, political editor, Tuesday 27 May 2014

After hours of debate, opposition's Tony Burke refuses to apologise and Speaker takes the matter no further

Speaker Bronwyn Bishop.Bronwyn Bishop, under fire from Labor. Photograph: Lukas Coch/AAP

The government on Tuesday accused Labor of “bullying” the Speaker, Bronwyn Bishop, and used its numbers to try to force the leader of opposition business, Tony Burke, to apologise for asserting Bishop improperly used her private dining room for a Liberal party fundraiser.

But when the motion demanding an apology was finally passed after hours of debate and procedural wrangling, Burke refused to apologise and Bishop did not seek to force the issue further, saying only that she hoped the “salutary motion” brought more “decorum” to the house.

Burke alleged on Monday that the Speaker’s fundraiser on budget night in her private dining room showed she had “outsourced her office to the Liberal party as a fundraising venue”.

Citing a newspaper article from 2000 in which it was reported that seven years earlier the former Labor speaker Leo McLeay had also used the Speaker’s dining room for a fundraiser, Pyne said Labor had been wrong to claim the practice was without precedent and Bishop had been right to assert that MPs could use their suites for anything they wished, provided it was legal.

He advised Labor “to understand they can’t keep trying to belt the umpire, they have to accept the fact that the opposition is in power … and that when you are in the chair you are exercising the impartiality that any Speaker should”.

Pyne said Burke had reflected on the Speaker and that this was “one of the worst crimes a member can do in this place”. He called on Burke to apologise “to restore integrity to the role of Speaker”.

“If the opposition is allowed to continue to denigrate and bully the Speaker then they denigrate the entire house,” Pyne insisted.

Burke apologised for “getting the one detail wrong” about the fundraiser being entirely unprecedented, but said he would not apologise for saying the Speaker was biased because she clearly was.

“If members of the Liberal party think they can use their numbers to silence a member of the Labor party, then bring it on,” he said.

On Monday, Burke unsuccessfully sought to refer the matter to the privileges committee, claiming Bishop’s office had been “outsourced to the Liberal party as a fundraising venue”.

He told her: “Your job is not owned by the Liberal party in a way you can dish out a venue for which, anywhere else in Parliament House, the Liberal party would have to pay $600.”

Burke said the fundraiser was an “appalling precedent” and came when Bishop was already “under pressure” as “the most biased Speaker we’ve ever had”.

Pyne cited an article by the journalist Brian Toohey on 9 August 2000 that said McLeay had a fundraising lunch in the official dining room with eight business executives, and that then prime minister Paul Keating had briefly “dropped in”, just as Tony Abbott had to Bishop’s fundraising dinner on budget night.

The article cited by Pyne also quoted the then Speaker, the Liberal Neil Andrew, as saying he had never used his official rooms for fundraising lunches or dinners.

Earlier in the day, Bishop ejected a Coalition MP –the Queensland Liberal Ewen Jones – from the chamber for the first time. She has ejected Labor MPs on 101 occasions.

Bronwyn Bishop 'bullied' by Labor over fundraising claims: Christopher Pyne | World news |

Government takes tough line on changes to first budget - Federal


By political correspondent Emma Griffiths

Prime Minister Tony Abbott Photo: Tony Abbott said the Government was cracking down on "so-called middle class welfare". (AAP: Alan Porritt)

Related Story: Budget blueprint stuck in a bygone era

Related Story: Pyne 'realistic' about negotiations on budget measures

Prime Minister Tony Abbott has defended billions of dollars of budget cuts saying the Government wants to "bear down" on middle-class welfare and is asking for some "sacrifices".

Federal MPs have begun two weeks of sittings which will be dominated by the changes announced in the Abbott Government's first budget, with senior ministers so far taking a hard line on the measures.

But the budget debate was side-tracked this afternoon by a Labor attack on the Speaker Bronwyn Bishop over the use of her official dining suite for a budget-night Liberal Party fundraiser.

The Opposition says it will pursue the matter through Parliament's powerful privileges committee, after the Speaker ruled that "all members are entitled to use their suites for their own purposes, but of course not for illegal purposes".

"Therefore it is not the business of either executive government or others to ask members the purpose for which they use their offices. That is the rule," Mrs Bishop told Parliament.

Manager of Opposition Business Tony Burke said Mrs Bishop was "trashing" the independence of the Speaker's position.

"It never occurred to me that partisanship would go to effectively donating a venue to the Liberal Party," Mr Burke said, adding that every other venue in Parliament would cost $600 to hire.

"The dining room that you're afforded with is there for the many important diplomatic functions you host, for the many important charity events that you host. That's what it's there for."

Mrs Bishop's office said yesterday that there was nothing improper with the fundraiser saying: "All costs associated with Mrs Bishop's private functions are charged to her private account and no taxpayer funds are used".

Leader of the House Christopher Pyne said in Parliament today the Speaker's fundraising dinner was "in no way" against "any rules of the Parliament".

Government faces tough fight on budget measures

But the Government is preparing for a much bigger battle on the billions of dollars of budget measures which are facing an uphill battle in the Senate, including the $7 fee for GP visits, changes to the pension, hikes in the fuel excise and a radical reshaping of the higher education sector.

Labor is also fighting moves to freeze family payment levels and thresholds, and cut off payments of Family Tax Benefit B when the youngest child turns six.

Budget back to the future

As a potential budget solution, the Invalid and Old Age Pension Act of 1908 is an absolute corker, writes Ian Verrender.


"We do want to bear down on so-called middle class welfare," Mr Abbott told Parliament.

"We were absolutely up-front in the budget about this - absolutely up-front in the budget about this - we must live within our means and living within our means means that handouts with borrowed money cannot continue in the way members opposite want."

In Question Time, Mr Abbott also fought off Labor attacks over a $1.3 billion cut to the states and territories to pay for concessions for pensioners and seniors.

"We are asking some sacrifices of our people," he said.

"This is a budget where all of us need to make a contribution so that all of us can be better off in the medium and long term."

Pensioners and concession card holders could lose discounts on rates, power, water and public transport costs from July - though the Federal Government says it contributes only about 10 per cent of the total funding for the subsidies.

The Government is taking a tough line on whether it will cede any ground to get the measures through Parliament, even though the Prime Minister has already stated there will have to be some "horsetrading".

There are only two more weeks of sittings for the current Senate, with the Greens holding the balance of power.

From July 1, that position will be shared by eight crossbenchers, including four either from, or affiliated with, the Palmer United Party.

"We are asking some sacrifices of our people"

Tony Abbott

Health Minister Peter Dutton, who has carriage of the GP "copayment" which will go towards a new medical research fund, says he will not budge on the measure.

"We believe very strongly that we have a package that is worth supporting and on that basis we are not for negotiating," he said.

He has accused "some senators" of opposing the measure for "populist reasons".

One of the Coalition's veteran MPs, LNP Senator for Queensland Ron Boswell says selling the budget to constituents is a "hard slog".

"To be honest I can't say they're overjoyed," he said.

He said people believe there is "an equity problem, it's falling on the lower income earners, more so that the high income earners or middle income earners."

"It's a hard slog out there we're trying to sell it but it's hard going."

He said there will be a debate about the budget and public feedback in tomorrow's Coalition party room meetings.

Government takes tough line on changes to Abbott Government's first budget - Federal Budget 2014 - ABC News (Australian Broadcasting Corporation)

Chifley's time bomb 70 years in the making


By Chris Berg

Historical haunt Photo: The wartime politics of John Curtin and treasurer Ben Chifley have come back to haunt Joe Hockey in 2014. (Supplied)

Joe Hockey has come smack-bang up against a fiscal illusion Ben Chifley created in the 1940s, which is proving a very real constraint on economic reform, writes Chris Berg.

Joe Hockey's father named his son "Joseph Benedict" after Ben Chifley.

Little did the family expect their child to be struggling with the legacy of his namesake at the most critical moment in his political career.

Hockey's first budget is haunted by a political bait-and-switch Chifley made way back in 1942 and 1943.

The story goes like this. Wars are incredibly expensive. During WWII, the Australian government inflated the currency and borrowed massive amounts of money. Nevertheless, when Labor took power in 1941, there was still a huge budget shortfall that needed to be addressed.

And like the Coalition today, Labor had made much political capital opposing the previous government's taxes, particularly those levied on low income earners.

Once in government, the new Prime Minister John Curtin doubled down. When the first uniform tax case came before the High Court (which effectively eliminated state income tax in favour of Commonwealth income tax) Curtin promised the electorate that the Commonwealth's new power would not be used as an excuse to raise income taxes.

Labor's no-tax pledge was unsustainable.

Throughout 1942 it became clear to Curtin and his treasurer Chifley that the government had to close their huge revenue-expenditure gap.

There was a war to be fought, so cutting spending was out. Printing money was out too. Inflation was already a problem. There would have to be some additional taxation. And some would necessarily hit those on incomes below £400 per year.

(There was another rationale for higher income taxes being pushed by the government's young Keynesian advisors: the need to suppress excess consumer spending during war.)

The solution devised by Chifley was a classic example of policy misdirection.

For the previous decade, parliament had been debating whether to introduce a national social security scheme. One of the key questions in this debate was whether it should be funded by general taxation, as Labor traditionally favoured, or individual contributions, as the conservative Lyons government had proposed in the late 1930s.

So when Chifley announced that they would increase income taxes on rich and poor alike, they also announced a "National Welfare Fund" alongside it.

This National Welfare Fund would fund welfare measures like pensions, unemployment relief, child endowments, even health care. The fund is often seen as the launch of Australia's welfare state.

Unlike a contributory scheme, the fund would be financed by the new income tax increases. But there were two tricks.

First, Chifley said the revenue from the tax increase was specially earmarked for the National Welfare Fund. Thus Labor wasn't breaking its promise not to increase the burden on low income earners - they would be getting social security for their money. (Think of the fund like our Medicare Levy today.)

And second, most of the great new social services weren't to start until after the war. Cabinet agreed that only £5 million of the estimated £40 raised would be directed towards immediate social spending. Money is fungible. The rest could quietly be used for the war effort.

The National Welfare Fund has long passed into historical obscurity. But the mythology of welfare contributions it engendered remains - one that imagines the welfare state as a giant piggy bank.

As the historian Rob Watts points out in his book The Foundations of the National Welfare State, what looks like groundbreaking Chifley welfare reform was really just a smokescreen for unpopular wartime tax rises on lower income earners.

The Menzies government folded the National Welfare Fund money into general revenue a few years later. (It is good budget practice not to hypothecate specific revenues to specific programs). But the fund remained in name until the 1980s.

The social contract has always been a complex mish-mash of popular mythologies about what the state owes to the citizen. We are still living with the political consequences of Chifley's clever little political ploy.

His scheme made it seem like the Australian tax system was a quasi-contributory and fully-funded insurance program.

One former Department of Social Security employee summed up this belief well in Green Left Weekly: "In the late '60s and early '70s, many applying for the pension would say, 'I'm only getting back the money I paid into the National Welfare Fund'."

The National Welfare Fund has long passed into historical obscurity. But the mythology of welfare contributions it engendered remains - one that imagines the welfare state as a giant piggy bank.

In 2014, Joe Hockey has come smack-bang up against Chifley's fiscal illusion.

Hockey says he wants to end the Age of Entitlement. But welfare measures like the pension feel a lot less like unjustifiable entitlements to those who believe they've already paid for state retirement benefits.

As one aggrieved person told the Treasurer on Q&A, "many pensioners have worked all their lives and paid tax in order to receive the pension and Medicare".

In other words, the piggy bank model of welfare is not about the well-off supporting the less fortunate. It's about churning everybody's money back to them.

So there's no place for means testing if welfare is less an old-age safety net and more a de facto retirement savings account. (In fact, quite the opposite. The more you put in the piggy bank the more you deserve what you get out).

If the welfare state is just a big piggy bank, there is no case - for instance - to include the family home in the pension assets test, something the Audit Commission recommended.

It's easy to ridicule people living in multi-million-dollar homes clinging on to the pension. Yet, thanks to Chifley, many Australians worked and paid taxes all their lives believing that was exactly what the social contract made possible.

Is Chifley's welfare-system-as-piggy-bank good policy? Certainly not. Over time it will fade away as superannuation carries the burden of the pension system.

But right now, as Joe Hockey has learned, it is a very real constraint on economic reform.

Chris Berg is a Research Fellow with the Institute of Public Affairs. View his full profile here.

Chifley's time bomb 70 years in the making - The Drum (Australian Broadcasting Corporation)

Senin, 26 Mei 2014

Captain Abbott steers into choppy waters


By Paula Matthewson Updated Mon 26 May 2014

Tony Abbott under fire Photo: Even if voter angst over the budget does subside, the real concern for Tony Abbott is the extent to which his perceived competency has taken a hit. (ABC)

With an ill-judged budget, errors on its detail and ongoing political missteps, Tony Abbott is losing what's left of his colleagues' respect, writes Paula Matthewson.

Most parliamentarians enter politics because they want to make a difference. They soon find out the only real way to bring about change is to be in government.

There are exceptions of course, such as when MPs hold the balance of power in a minority government or the Senate, but in most cases the power to make and deliver policies lies in the hands of the politicians perched on the Treasury benches.

So having attained the golden prize, there is an understandable reluctance to let it go again. Even the faintest whiff of an electoral threat can be enough to set the hares racing.

This goes some way to explaining why anxious ministers and backbenchers are whingeing to the media about the deeply unpopular federal budget, and agitating for changes to be made to the way things are run on the Good Ship Coalition.

"A stinking carcass" and a "pollywaffle in the public pool" are two reported denunciations by Government members of their own budget. According to the same media report, even a leadership "shake-up" is being considered as an option sometime in the future.

This is because, like Kevin Rudd before him, Tony Abbott's value to his colleagues is entirely measured by his capacity to keep them in government.

Both men were the begrudging choice of desperate MPs reduced to trying anything to find electoral success. Neither had a loyal following within their parliamentary parties, nor did their colleagues particularly respect them.

In Rudd's case, any remaining regard vanished when, after presiding over an increasingly dysfunctional government, he mishandled the politics of the Copenhagen climate change meeting and abandoned action to address the greatest moral challenge of our time. The Rudd government's opinion poll ratings plummeted, nervous Labor MPs began to chitter, and the rest is history.

Abbott too is losing what is left of his colleagues' respect. Political indulgences like the Paid Parental Leave scheme and the reinstatement of knights and dames were unsettling at best, but now that lack of political nous is manifested on a grand scale with the internally contradictory budget (deep spending cuts AND excessive spending increases), its cack-handed PR campaign and avoidable stumbles on the budget's details.

Yet instead of finding ways to right the ship, blame-shifting has become the Government's new political past-time. One Liberal Party faction has been briefing the media that Treasurer Hockey isn't up to the task or is captured by his department, while others have emphasised that Abbott presided over all the key budget decision-making processes.

One of the most pointed leaks has been the claim that Abbott's Chief of Staff Peta Credlin declared "this was a budget she would take to an election", implying that she was complicit in the lack of political judgment shown in casting and selling the budget.

Critics of Credlin's command and control style are also using the budget to discredit her centralised approach, most likely in the hope of dismantling it.

Former Costello staffer and now well-connected political columnist, Niki Savva, commented just after the budget that:

Overall, the budget has the mark of a prime minister who accepts he will never be popular, who will struggle to regain the trust of his fellow Australians and who should count himself lucky if, at the end of it all, he wins their respect ... The pity of it is that the Coalition did not properly alert people to its intentions before the election. Abbott is paying the price now for a brutally effective campaign to destroy Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard, a campaign orchestrated by those closest to him whose mission was to get him there no matter what, then worry about the rest later. [Emphasis added]

To make sure we were in no doubt as to her meaning, Savva said in a television interview this past weekend that Abbott is right to say the Australian people wouldn't necessarily want to see another prime minister cut down by their own party, but that he should remember why Rudd and Gillard were removed.

Savva recounted that in addition to not living up to their commitments, Rudd had a dysfunctional office and government, while Gillard just wouldn't listen.

She concluded by emphasising the leadership lessons Abbott should take from Rudd and Gillard's political demise: change the way he and his office (Credlin) operates, and address his MPs' anxiety and unrest.

The first test of whether Abbott is prepared to heed such advice will be this week's sitting of the House of Representatives.

Ministers will be negotiating with the minor parties and other crossbench senators on legislation the Government believes has a better chance of being passed before the new Senate commences on July 1. This is when the balance of power shifts from the Greens to the broader crossbench.

It will be at this point that we see how many of the budget decisions are re-cast as mere ambit claims and negotiated into more electorally palatable forms.

Even if voter angst over the budget does subside over time, the real concern for Abbott should be the extent to which his perceived competence has taken a hit. The combination of an ill-judged budget, not being on top of its detail and ongoing political missteps like "winkgate", could quickly add up to Abbott being seen as out of his depth if handled proficiently by the Labor Opposition.

This would be a significant political blow: the main reason the Gillard/Rudd government was rejected by voters in 2013 was because it was considered incompetent.

So it would be a mistake for the Prime Minister to dismiss talk of unrest and potential leadership challenges as mere backbench bleating because the water is getting a bit choppy.

Australia may still be two-and-a-half years away from the next federal election, but if a new leader was to be installed, he or she would need 18 months to establish themselves. That gives Abbott a year to pull things together.

Paula Matthewson is a freelance communications adviser and corporate writer. View her full profile here.

Captain Abbott steers into choppy waters - The Drum (Australian Broadcasting Corporation)

Prime Minister Tony Abbott to face nervous backbench MPs after budget


By Alexandra Kirk

PM announces a royal commission into union corruption Photo: Prime Minister Tony Abbott has sought to reassure backbench MPs nervous after the budget. (AAP: Alan Porritt)

Prime Minister Tony Abbott will face a nervous party room today, as the Coalition backbench gets its first chance to tell the Government how the budget is being received around the country.

Some MPs have told AM that voters have said they will never again vote for the Coalition, others that the jury is still out and the Government needs to do a better sales job.

Mr Abbott had a chance to gauge the mood when he hosted a private dinner for a large group of his MPs, mostly new ones, when they arrived in Canberra for the return of Parliament this week.

A Government source says it was not organised for them to air their angst, but that Mr Abbott and key ministers reassured them and informed them about the budget.

However, one Liberal MP says the meeting served to defuse their concerns and avoid specific criticisms of the budget being raised in the party-room meeting.

New Nationals MP for the rural seat of Mallee, Andrew Broad, said he does not discuss the party room, but thinks voters can be won over.

"It's a difficult sell, I will always use the great quote by Winston Churchill that 'a lie gets halfway around the world before the truth has a chance to get out of bed and put its pants on'," Mr Broad said.

The Australian population know that we couldn't continue on the way that it was going, that we did have a structural flaw in our spending pattern, things needed to change, they get it.

Member for Mallee Andrew Broad

Mr Broad said while people may be unhappy with some of the budget measures, they also understand the situation the Government faces.

"We get that the country essentially couldn't continue on the way that it was going and we appreciate that we've got a Government that's prepared to, you know, muscle up to the job at hand," he said.

"The Australian population know that we couldn't continue on the way that it was going, that we did have a structural flaw in our spending pattern, things needed to change, they get it.

"I think the population will stick with a government and walk through some difficult years, if they know there's light on the other side."

However, Mr Broad said the Government had not articulated the budget as well as it could have.

'Mixed messages' blunt Government budget campaign

Other MPs report some voters are vowing they will not back the Coalition again and another describes the mood as "black", worse now, he says, than just after budget night.

Liberal MP Dennis Jensen blames "mixed messages" - the budget's inclusion of big spending alongside spending cuts.

"I think the biggest problem is that, in effect, almost a lack of coherence and a clear narrative," he said.

And Dr Jensen says the Government allowed "scare stories" to gain a foothold, needlessly worrying pensioners.

"It becomes very difficult then to actually correct the record, because people tend to believe almost the first thing they hear, or something like that, and it takes a lot more effort to convince them that that is wrong, rather than giving that message in the first place.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott to face nervous backbench MPs after budget - ABC News (Australian Broadcasting Corporation)

Kamis, 22 Mei 2014

Where Gillard copped it sweet, Abbott fights on


By ABC's Annabel Crabb Posted Thu 22 May 2014

Would life have been easier for Julia Gillard had she too stood her ground? Photo: Would life have been easier for Julia Gillard had she too stood her ground? (David Rowland/ Alan Porritt: AAP)

Tony Abbott refuses to concede that he broke any promises with his first budget. Will this approach prove more successful than Julia Gillard's ill-fated acquiescence on the carbon tax? Annabel Crabb writes.

As it's becoming increasingly unoriginal to point out, all governments break their promises to some extent. What makes them different is how they handle it, and the events of the last week suggest that Australian politics is currently experiencing a genuine Sliding Doors moment.

When you are accused of breaking a promise, there are two options. The first is to cop it sweet, in an attempt to kill the argument so that everyone will move on. The second is to have the argument, in the hope that everyone at some point will get sick of arguing.

Each technique has its advantages and disadvantages. Julia Gillard chose the first, and Tony Abbott seems at this stage to have plumped for the second.

In 2010, when Ms Gillard enlarged upon her campaign promise not to impose a carbon tax by getting together with the Greens and agreeing to impose a carbon tax, she did have the option of arguing the toss.

A three-year fixed price on carbon emissions, yielding thereafter to a floating price as part of an emissions trading scheme, could, at a pinch, have been defended as "not a tax". But the then PM ceded the argument. Why? Perhaps she didn't want to exacerbate a broken promise with sneakiness. Perhaps she envisioned months of semantic debates conducted up hill and down dale at press conferences, doorstops and radio interviews and decided that no fate could possibly be grimmer. Perhaps it was just a colossal piece of misjudgement; certainly, there are former colleagues of hers who hold that view.

Would life have been easier for her, would "Carbon Tax" be a phrase less fierily branded upon the Australian political consciousness, had she stood her definitional ground?

It looks like we're about to find out.

Tony Abbott and Joe Hockey do not concede that their government has broken any promises. They have opted to bat on, invoking - depending on which day it is, and with varying degrees of success - one or all of the following defences:

  • The impost on high income earners is not a new tax, because it's actually a temporary levy that runs only for three years. (This defence is so similar to the one Ms Gillard chose not to use that it's freaky.)
  • The petrol excise hike is not a new tax. It's an increase to an existing one, and nobody promised taxes wouldn't be changed.
  • The pension changes aren't scheduled to happen until after the next election, and the other cuts affecting pensioners, like reduced concessions, aren't actually changes to the pension itself, so that's not a breach of the promise not to touch the pension.
  • The spending cut from the Commonwealth health budget is going to be directed to medical research, so that doesn't constitute, definitionally, a "cut to health".
  • Because the Coalition will abolish the mining and carbon taxes, the overall tax burden will be lower, thus fulfilling in a more global sense the promise not to raise taxes.
  • The Medicare co-payment might be a tax, but on the other hand it might be a rabbit.

The up-hill-and-down-dale element to the argument is unfurling exactly as you might have expected. Do Tony Abbott and Joe Hockey have the requisite stamina?

Mr Abbott, who runs up hill and down dale as a personal hobby, seems to be up for it. Mr Hockey, who is being asked to carry the political opprobrium for breaking undertakings which overwhelmingly were made by his leader and not by him (and often, indeed, were made by his leader to Mr Hockey's significant personal discomfort), might find it rather heavier going.

Much has been made of the polls this week, in which Mr Abbott's popularity declined from where it had been hovering - around the "stubbed toe" mark - right down to "fart in a crowded elevator" depths. Predictions that this would prove the beginning of the end were immediately available.

I don't know about that. Mr Abbott has never been a popular figure. He was unpopular before the election, and the budget has made him even more unpopular. Obviously, in a democracy, unpopularity is a problem. But popularity has its own problems, too; leaders who are massively popular can often become so obsessed with remaining so that they are incapable of doing anything, lest people change their minds.

This was a persistent problem for Kevin Rudd; one might respectfully conclude it's not going to trouble Mr Abbott too much.

Annabel Crabb is the ABC's chief online political writer. View her full profile here.

Where Gillard copped it sweet, Abbott fights on - The Drum (Australian Broadcasting Corporation)

Trust me, Abbott is a PM without power


By Tim Dunlop Posted Thu 22 May 2014

John Howard and Tony Abbott Photo: John Howard took four terms as PM to ruin his reputation for honesty. Tony Abbott has done it in less than one full year. (AAP: Alan Porritt)

John Howard had a reputation for being a "safe pair of hands" before he started trashing his promises. Tony Abbott didn't have that clout, so the backlash was swift, writes Tim Dunlop.

Tony Abbott remains in office but he is no longer in power. I don't think I'm exaggerating in saying that.

Political power in a democracy derives from the consent of the governed - as the political scientists say - and voters only give their consent when they trust. I think it is fair to say that most people no longer trust Abbott.

Politicians can obviously survive broken promises, but Abbott's first budget has taken us into new territory.

A comparison with his old boss, John Howard, is instructive.

Howard came to power in 1996 with a high level of public trust. He had been around so long that most people thought they understood his motivations and his world view.

So even when he went all "core" and "non-core" on his election promises, people wore it because, to a large extent, they accepted his reasoning.

In those days it was pretty common to hear that Howard was "a safe pair of hands". So even though voters weren't thrilled with the broken promises, they still trusted him to do the right thing by the country. Even to those who didn't trust him, his authority was clear.

It took a few more terms of government for Howard to completely throw away that goodwill.

A report prepared inside his own party in 2001 branded him as "mean and tricky" and out of touch. Then came the "children overboard" fiasco and significantly, the deceptions around Saddam's weapons of mass destruction. To top it all off, there was WorkChoices.

By 2007, John Howard had so thoroughly trashed his brand that he not only lost government, he lost his own seat, becoming only the second prime minister in history to suffer that ignominy.

Losing the election had a lot to do with the rise of Kevin Rudd. Losing his seat was entirely down to Howard himself.

Yes, as the saying has it, all political careers end in failure, but at least Howard had success along the way.

Abbott, on the other hand, came to office without any of Howard's trust ballast. The media might have curled up in his lap after christening him the greatest opposition leader ever, but he was never popular.

Like Howard, he was a known quantity, but not in a good way.

Abbott's victory in 2013 was a classic case of the truism that says governments lose elections, oppositions don't win them.

All through the Howard years, Abbott was never considered a leadership contender (not even remotely), and even after they lost power in 2007, Abbott's elevation was more or less accidental. It only came after the party had burned through two other leaders (three if you count the fact that Peter Costello, the heir apparent, spat the dummy and ran back to Toorak).

Abbott's victory in 2013 was a classic case of the truism that says governments lose elections, oppositions don't win them.

What's more, I think it is fair to say that it was Abbott's poor standing with the electorate that caused him to overcompensate with his promises. On some basic level, he understood that people didn't trust him and so he went into absolute overdrive to assure people that he was, at the very least, preferable to Julia Gillard whom sections of the media had tirelessly constructed as "Juliar".

All the hand-on-heart promises and reassurances he gave as opposition leader went well beyond the normal level of campaigning and entered into a sort of pathological zone of desperation.

This is why the broken promises are currently doing him so much damage.

It is not because people are shocked that a politician has gone back on his word, but because in going back on his word, Abbott has reinforced the negative view that people had of him anyway, the one he was compensating for in making the promises in the first place.

Still, there is more to it than broken promises. There is the fact that the specifics of what he has done are worse than most people ever dared imagine.

He has delivered a budget that not only breaks faith with his pre-election promises - in a way that is breathtaking for even the most hardened of political cynics - but that breaks faith with what I call the founding myth of Australian society, a commitment to egalitarianism and the fair go.

Back in March 2013, I wrote a piece that suggested that the Australian consensus on a fair go may no longer be shared by a significant section of the political class, and I worried about what an incoming Abbott Government would do.

One of the reader comments on that story said this:

A poor article ... A commitment to a fair go and egalitarianism will continue to be a part of Australian society. To suggest otherwise is hysterical.

I'm sure many people felt the same way. It was inconceivable that any government would attack the pillars of Australia's self-understanding. But that's exactly what this budget does.

As any number of expert analysts have shown (see this, for example), the burden of this Government's restructuring falls on those at the lower end of the income and wealth scales.

Budget measures are, by and large, designed not just to hit lower and middle-income families, but specifically to insulate the rich from much of the pain. And as Ross Gittins puts it:

Don't think just because you voted for the Coalition Hockey is looking after you.

Howard took four full terms as prime minister to completely ruin his reputation for honesty. Abbott has done it in less than one full year. How could anyone be so clumsy?

The answer lies in authority.

Both inside and outside the party, Abbott draws on very shallow reservoirs of support. This in turn is related to the fact that the Coalition itself no longer connects with a significant "base".

This is why our politics has become more and more an exercise in media management than in policy commitment. And that situation is made worse by the fact that the media itself has fractured beyond repair and thus mirrors the political sphere in its lack of authority.

Such a situation does not lend itself to long-term planning. It lends itself to short-term shock-and-awe tactics. When you sense the precariousness of your grip on power, you want to shake things up as quickly as possible, to try to alter the landscape radically while you can.

That's why this budget feels like WorkChoices for everything.

Howard waited for three terms and a favourable Senate before he dared try anything like that. I sincerely doubt that Abbott, even on his best day, thinks he will last that long, and so there is no time to waste.

Of course, none of this means he will necessarily be replaced as Leader of the Liberal Party (and therefore as PM) or even that he will lose the next election.

Why? Because the same lack of authority that plagues Abbott and the Coalition also applies to Bill Shorten and the ALP.

Which is why an argument you will hear a lot is that governments can afford a tough budget early in their term, even if they break promises, because it leaves them two more years in which to repair the damage, show that the pain was worth it, and soften the blows closer to the next election.

That's true, but so egregious is Abbott's break of faith with the electorate that the conventional wisdom may not hold, just as it almost didn't hold in 2010 when, after only one term in power, Labor was forced to rely on independents and minor parties to form government.

Are we therefore heading for a hung parliament? I have no idea, but one thing you can be sure of is that if we are, the anti-politician/post-politics position that is likely to resonate powerfully in the electorate is all but owned by Clive Palmer.

Both Abbott and Shorten should be scared to death.

Tim Dunlop is the author of The New Front Page: New Media and the Rise of the Audience. View his full profile here.

Trust me, Abbott is a PM without power - The Drum (Australian Broadcasting Corporation)

Rabu, 21 Mei 2014

Disability sufferers likely to face $7 GP payments despite assurances


Lenore Taylor, political editor, Tuesday 20 May 2014

Doctors say the patient who confronted treasurer on Q&A was right to say he will be out of pocket after Medicare changes

Korey Gunnis on Q&A on Monday night.

When Korey Gunnis - sufferer of rheumatoid arthritis, cerebral palsy, osteoporosis, osteoarthritis, chronic asthma, hearing loss, anxiety disorder and clinical depression - asked Joe Hockey on the ABC’s Q and A program how he was supposed to cope with the new “heartless” $7 Medicare co-payment, the treasurer’s answer was unequivocal. Gunnis would not have to pay it.

“Well from what you said you wouldn’t be hit by the so-called medicare co-payment, you wouldn’t be affected,” Hockey said.

“Initially I would”, Gunnis interjected from the audience, presumably referring to the fact that even concession card holders are required to pay the co-payment for their first 10 visits to the doctor each year.

“No you wouldn’t because you would be on a care plan with your doctor, obviously you have a number of chronic diseases, in that situation you would not be affected by the co-payment,” Hockey insisted.

But according to the Australian Medical Association, Gunnis is very probably right.

The budget does exempt doctors’ visits listed as “chronic disease management items” from the co-payment, but these are likely to be only a very small proportion of the visits to the doctor by someone with chronic health problems like Gunnis.

“Chronic disease management items” include an initial consultation to develop a chronic disease management plan and another consultation with other health professionals - for example with a diabetic educator and a podiatrist for a sufferer of diabetes.

But if a chronic disease sufferer gets sick, or needs a new prescription, or has any other health problems their visit to the doctor counts as a standard consultation and attracts the $7 co-payment - for the first 10 visits if they are hold a concession card, or indefinitely, if they do not.

AMA president Dr Steve Hambleton said “people with chronic disease are likely to pay the co-payment for most of their normal visits to the doctor, which would be considered standard consultations.”

He said his organisation was not “against” the co-payment overall, and for most people it would pose no problem for their health care.

But he said doctors were worried about its impact on the most disadvantaged patients they saw - very low income earners especially those with chronic conditions, some aged care or dementia payments and some patients in indigenous communities.

“There are definitely people who are going to struggle and we need to talk to the minister about how we are supposed to handle those people, because the system as it stands discourages doctors from bulk-billing or waiving the co-payment for those in greatest need,” he said.

“If the co-payment means very low income earners, or the very sick, defer getting medical care and then present when their condition is much worse it will be a bad outcome for them and potentially a net cost for the health system,” he said.

“There is definitely more work to be done on this new system.”

Hambleton has said doctors could lose 12-25% of their current income if they do not adopt the co-payment when it is due to come into effect next July.

Disability sufferers likely to face $7 GP payments despite Hockey's assurances | World news |

Abbott and Pyne cancel university visit amid safety fears


Daniel Hurst, political correspondent, Wednesday 21 May 2014

Visit to Deakin University coincided with planned nationwide student demonstrations against budget cuts to higher education

Tony Abbott and Christopher Pyne Tony Abbott and Christopher Pyne: students are protesting against plans to cut the public funding of university courses by 20% on average and deregulate fees. Photograph: Daniel Munoz/AAP

Tony Abbott and Christopher Pyne have cancelled a planned visit to Victoria's Deakin University on Wednesday, citing fears about their safety during the national day of student protests against higher education cuts.

The prime minister and the education minister’s visit to the Geelong campus to open a research facility coincided with nationwide demonstrations organised by the National Union of Students.

Students are protesting against the government’s budget plans to cut the public funding of university courses by 20% on average and deregulate fees, allowing universities to charge as much as they wish.

“The advice from the Australian Federal Police was that they were concerned about the safety, particularly of innocent bystanders, because [Wednesday] is the students' national day of action, so-called, where they're protesting against having to contribute more to their own education,” Pyne told the ABC’s Lateline program.

“So the prime minister made a decision, and his office, that it would be wiser to not go and create that tumult at Deakin University, so students can get on with their studies unmolested by the Socialist Alternative, which seem quite intent on shutting down democracy in Australia.”

Pyne said the foreign affairs minister, Julie Bishop, and the former Liberal MP Sophie Mirabella had been targeted by protesters at universities recently. He said people should be free to express their opinions without being "molested or assaulted".

"It's a great shame of course in the modern era that this would be the case but since the Q&A show about two weeks ago it's been clear that the Socialist Alternative students are trying to make a point and shut down other people's opinions in the debate, which is a great pity."

Protests are planned in Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane, Perth, Hobart and Canberra on Wednesday. The National Union of Students said the protests were “to stand against the privatisation and degradation of our universities, and against increases to fees”. At some of the events, protesters plan to burn budget papers.

The NUS national president, Deanna Taylor, said the protests were intended to be peaceful.

"The prime minister and minister Pyne are trying to portray protesting students as violent rabble rousers out to cause trouble," she said. "They’re trying to suggest that we are spoiled brats that don’t know how good we’ve got it, and are trying to take taxpayers for a ride, but we know that the government’s plans to will ruin higher education as we know it, and destroy future generations’ opportunity to access university."

Labor and the Greens have voiced their opposition to the higher education overhaul, which they argued would increase costs for students and move towards a two-tiered system in which a person’s wealth determined the education they could receive.

Clive Palmer signaled his opposition on Monday, indicating the government may not be able to secure passage of the legislation through the Senate. Palmer went further by calling for the abolition of the Higher Education Contributions Scheme (Hecs) so Australians could enjoy free university education.

Pyne said the sales job had “only just begun” and Palmer had not thought through his position.

"I guess – in a nirvana paradise kind of world – no students would have to pay for their university degrees, there'd be free housing for everyone, free health for everyone, free schooling for everyone, but unfortunately there isn't that paradise on earth anywhere,” Pyne said.

The minister defended his reforms, saying the planned expansion of funding for sub-bachelor programs would "spread opportunity to more students". He said universities could not thrive without more revenue.

Pyne said students were currently contributing only about 40% towards the cost of their degrees despite earning 75% more on average and deriving a "massive personal benefit" from attending university.

"We're not a socialist country so we don't only have public contributions,” Pyne said.

Tony Abbott and Christopher Pyne cancel university visit amid safety fears | World news |

Senin, 19 Mei 2014

Labor's choice: chaos or kudos


By Paula Matthewson

Bill Shorten Photo: Some Labor supporters are hoping Bill Shorten takes more of an Old Testament approach towards Tony Abbott. (AAP: Alan Porritt)

In the post-Budget wash-up Labor must decide what is the right style of opposition to adopt: Tony Abbott's grinding negativity or the Howard/Rudd model of selective differentiation, writes Paula Matthewson.

With the delivery of the Abbott Government's first Budget we move into the second stanza of the electoral cycle, where the Coalition's main challenge is to convince Australians the Budget pain is worth it.

Opinion polls from Galaxy yesterday and Newspoll today show the magnitude of the task, with about 70 per cent of respondents feeling worse off and only about 40 per cent believing the Budget is good for the country.

The Newspoll result is the worst for a first budget in more than 20 years.

Labor's task is of a completely different nature but in some ways no less challenging - it must decide what sort of opposition it wants to be.

Since Labor was thrown out of office eight months ago the party has struggled not only with its identity but also with what is the "right" style of opposition to adopt: should it employ Tony Abbott's grinding negativity or the Howard/Rudd model of selective differentiation?

These options were manifested in the two Labor leadership contenders. The pugnacious Anthony Albanese, champion of the Left and fighter of Tories who was ironically similar to Abbott in opposition, and the Right's Bill Shorten who took a more nuanced approach and vowed not to oppose just for opposition's sake.

Shorten's victory in the leadership contest was by no means an endorsement of the less negative style, but that is nevertheless the approach he adopted. This led to some doubt and consternation among Labor supporters, as well as anxious whispers as to whether the leader was up to the job.

Last week's feisty parliamentary response by Shorten to the Budget gave heart to the doubters.

The speech could also prove to be a pivotal moment for the Labor leader and his party. Shorten acknowledged as much in an address to party members on the weekend, saying the Budget had "defined the Labor Party".

In his Budget reply Shorten highlighted the four "pillars of Australian society" that are being attacked by the Budget, which are also key Labor principles and differentiate the party from the Coalition: universal health care, education for all, fair pensions and full employment.

These issues - along with the cost of living - also happen to be the pitches on which Labor has chosen to fight the Coalition's Budget: co-payment for GPs, cuts to education funding, changes to student loans and pensions, re-introduction of fuel excise indexation and measures to prevent people under 30 getting unemployment benefit.

It would be a mistake, however, to see this as Shorten emulating Abbott. Shorten may be emphasising the budget measures that Labor will block, but a closer inspection reveals Labor will support other measures such as the deficit levy on high income earners. The Labor leader has also indicated a willingness to discuss thresholds and means tests for certain welfare payments.

This is a smart move by Shorten. By basing his opposition on the best points of differentiation with the Coalition he is reinforcing in voters' minds what the ALP stands for and what it will fight to protect. This tactic has been described as Labor choosing to fight on issues rather than making themselves the issue.

Selective differentiation also gives Labor more flexibility to adapt to the vagaries of the new Senate when it commences on July 1.

It's true that the crossbenchers have the balance of power if Labor joins with the Greens to oppose legislation such as that to re-introduce the indexation of fuel excise. 

Equally, though, Labor could negotiate with the Government to soften or delay certain Budget proposals in return for safe passage of others through the Senate. In doing so, Labor could deliver real improvements to affected voters.

Such an outcome would have the added benefit for both Labor and the Coalition of denying Clive Palmer or the Greens bragging rights for having caused the Government to back down on a Budget measure.

Such a denial is clearly on the minds of both major parties. It's likely a proposal by the Greens to establish a national ICAC was thwarted by Labor and the Coalition to prevent the minor party getting any kudos for such an initiative. And Abbott is reportedly so determined to avoid any perception that he is beholden to Clive Palmer that he is willing to take voters back to another election if Palmer won't let key legislation pass the Senate.

Labor supporters may be uncomfortable, however, with the Opposition siding with the Government to pass even the most sensible of Budget measures, particularly this early in the parliamentary cycle.

They'd rather see Shorten take more of an Old Testament approach, visiting as much havoc on the PM as Abbott did on Julia Gillard, and doing his best to create the perception of a chaotic and incompetent Government through obstructionism and negativity.

Chaos or kudos, these are the choices for Shorten. Only one will help him re-establish Labor's links with its core supporters, grow that support base and build the party's standing as a viable alternative government. The other will deliver delicious schadenfreude.

It's a tough choice to make.

Paula Matthewson is a freelance communications adviser and corporate writer. View her full profile here.

Labor's choice: chaos or kudos - The Drum (Australian Broadcasting Corporation)

Minggu, 18 Mei 2014

Budget fairness goes up in (cigar) smoke


By Mungo MacCallum

Sucker born every minute Photo: The image of Joe Hockey and Mathias Cormann sucking smugly on their cigars before handing down the brutal Budget will stick in our minds. (AAP: Alan Porritt)

This whole triumphalist Budget is built around the proposition that there is a sucker born every minute. Didn't the Coalition prove that last September? Mungo MacCallum writes.

For many, the enduring image of the 2014 Budget will be the memory of Treasurer Joe Hockey and Finance Minister Mathias Cormann sucking smugly on their cigars as they relaxed before unleashing their brutal Budget on the fearful populace.

But a still more potent symbol can be found in the education budget. The puffing pair cut some $30 billion worth of funding out of the money committed to schools, trashing the visionary and egalitarian Gonski reforms in the process. But they were able to find a quarter of a billion extra for chaplains - chaplains from established religions, that is, none of that secular subversion.

Sack the teachers, send in the missionaries. Pie in the sky when you die. Captain Catholic rules, OK?

This perverse priority should perhaps have been expected in Tony Abbott's first serious move as Prime Minister, an agenda that appears to be based more on spite, revenge and raw ideology than on any serious economic or social program.

To start with, the cruel hoax of the budget emergency was finally put to rest with massive new spending on business tax cuts, roads, medical research and, of course, on Abbott's much derided paid parental leave scheme.

The Australian - hardly the Government's harshest critic - estimates the overall spending for 2013-2014, a fiscal year in which the Coalition has been at the helm for nine of the 12 months, at around $410 billion - an increase of nearly $50 billion over the previous, supposedly profligate, year of Julia Gillard and Kevin Rudd. And why not? Revenue collected by Tony ("our taxes will always be lower") Abbott will rise from 23 to nearly 25 per cent of GDP.

But now, of course, they are cutting back - we are all doing the heavy lifting for the sake of our children. It's just some of us are doing more of it than others.

Business, for instance, gets a tax cut of 1.5 per cent - even big business, which will pay for some (but by no means all) of the PPL scheme will break even. And the richest 3 per cent will be asked to weather a very small, very temporary tax hike that they will easily absorb through their multifarious untaxed lurks - superannuation concessions, dividend imputation, negative gearing and family trusts, to only scratch the surface.

The politicians - sharing the burden - will have their lavish pay packets frozen for just 12 months while those long since retired to wallow in their accumulated loot will have a tad shaved off their gold pass entitlements. But while some are to be briefly lashed with a feather, others are to be stretched on an ever-tightening rack for the foreseeable future.

Petrol excise will rise twice yearly; the pension will fall further and further behind average wages. Health care and education will become more expensive, welfare will be harder to get and there will be less of it and the states are to be forced to raise new regressive taxes of their own.

These changes are not just for a couple of years but forever. And the carnage will take place against a background of cuts to Aboriginal grants, the environment, the ABC and foreign aid.

But don't worry, there's some good news too. There will be more roads - well, in the cities at least - and extra medical research. And of all the lies in the this mendacious Budget, these are perhaps the most cynical: the new taxes are being sold on the fantastic premise that somehow their proceeds will be returned to those who pay them.

Thus the $7 charge for seeing a previously bulk-billing GP will be spent - well, at least some of it - on setting up the super-dooper Medical Research Foundation, so it is actually for the benefit of the sick. As if the hope of an eventual cure for Alzheimer's will somehow console the desperate mother scrabbling for the cash to get treatment for her sick child.

In fact, of course, the money is going, as all taxes do, straight into consolidated revenue, and will have to be re-appropriated before it can be spent anywhere.

And the motive for the tax is partly to raise money, but even more importantly to begin the demolition of universal health care, a system attacked by Abbott last week as "socialised medicine" - the pejorative epithet coined by the Tories 40 years ago to oppose Gough Whitlam's introduction of Medibank. Medical research is an afterthought, a pacifier for the supposedly gullible victims.

And even sillier is the pretence that all the money raised by re-indexing fuel excise (for all but the miners, farmers and truckies, of course, who will continue to get theirs subsidised by the rest of us) will be spent on building highways for the motorists who buy the petrol.

For starters, most of the money is coming from allocations already made, a lot of them by the previous government, and from contributions by the states - to that extent it's just another con.

But consider: do punters seriously expect gambling taxes to be spent on bigger and better casinos and racetracks? Does even the most sozzled drinker believe that alcohol taxes go to building pubs, breweries and distilleries and to subsidising the production of hops and barley? Do smokers fantasise that the taxes on their fags will end up in the hands of tobacco farmers, or even the specialists who attend to their inevitable health problems?

A tax (or for that matter a levy, a duty, a tithe or a tariff) is raised to be used by the government as it sees fit, and anyone who supposes otherwise is a candidate for the first scammer who comes by with an offer of a lease on the Sydney Harbour Bridge. But that is hardly to worry Abbott, Hockey and Cormann as they peddle their nauseating snake oil around the country.

After all, this whole triumphalist Budget is built around the proposition that there is a sucker born every minute. Didn't they prove that last September?

Mungo Wentworth MacCallum is a political journalist and commentator. View his full profile here.

Budget fairness goes up in (cigar) smoke - The Drum (Australian Broadcasting Corporation)

Independence of Speaker Bronwyn Bishop again compromised


 Lisa Cox

Lisa Cox National political reporter May 16, 2014

Leader of the House Christopher Pyne signals he's heard enough applause for Bill Shorten's budget reply and Speaker Bronwyn Bishop swiftly intervenes.

The independence of the Speaker has again been compromised after the government was caught directing her to bring applause for Bill Shorten's budget reply speech to an end.

A video circulated on Thursday night by Labor showed the manager of government business Christopher Pyne explicitly directing Speaker Bronwyn Bishop to rise to her feet, which is the parliamentary signal for members to fall silent.

It's the second time in less than a week that Mr Pyne has embarrassed the government, after first being caught on tape delivering an insult to the Opposition Leader which some interpreted as a four-letter profanity, but which the government insisted was the word "grub".

Madam Speaker Bronwyn Bishop's independence has again been called into question.

Madam Speaker Bronwyn Bishop's independence has again been called into question. Photo: Andrew Meares

During enthusiastic applause at the end of Mr Shorten's speech on Thursday night, Mr Pyne could clearly be seen gesturing to Ms Bishop to stand up, which she duly does at his instruction.

Manager of Opposition Business Tony Burke circulated footage of the incident on social media and on Friday labelled Mr Pyne "arrogant" for directing the speaker to calm the House.

"The arrogance of Christopher Pyne issuing instructions to the Speaker is breathtaking," Mr Burke said.

"I don't think anyone gets surprised anymore when the Speaker appears to follow the instructions immediately."

Labor has accused Ms Bishop of being the most biased Speaker in history. In opposition, Prime Minister Tony Abbott said he favoured an independent speakership, but Ms Bishop has since ignored that by remaining active in the party room

In March, Labor unsuccessfully tried to strip her of the speakership through a motion of no confidence.

The attempt was made after Ms Bishop ejected shadow attorney general Mark Dreyfus from the parliament, making him the 98th MP to be thrown out of the House this year.

"Every one of them from the opposition. Ninety-eight-love," Mr Burke said at the time. Two days later the tally had risen to 99.

A spokesman for Mr Pyne said on Friday Ms Bishop had acted appropriately after Mr Shorten's speech.

"Tony Burke knows when the budget in reply has concluded and there is nothing before the chair the House must adjourn," he said.

"The Speaker acted entirely appropriately and adjourned the House and I'm surprised Mr Burke is questioning this."

Independence of Speaker Bronwyn Bishop again compromised after she takes direction from Christopher Pyne

Jumat, 16 Mei 2014

Medicare co-payment and medical research fund may never happen


Lenore Taylor, political editor, Friday 16 May 2014

Coalition is not prepared to negotiate and other parties will not vote for plan as it stands

Budget 2014: Medicare card Peter Dutton said 'We looked at the $15 [Medicare co-payment] that was recommended by the Commission of Audit and we believe that $7 provides a balance.' Photograph: Dave Hunt/AAP

The government’s proposed $7 Medicare co-payment, and the $20bn medical research fund to be funded from it, may never happen.

The federal health minister, Peter Dutton, has said the government is not prepared to negotiate on the plan, and Labor, the Greens, the Palmer United party and crossbench senators have all said they will not vote for it as it stands.

“People should understand that if they don't want to put money into medical research then they can go down the obstructionist path of Labor and the Greens," Dutton told the ABC.

Asked whether he was open to negotiation, he said: “Well, we're not and the reason is that we looked at the $15 [co-payment] that was recommended by the Commission of Audit and we believe that $7 provides a balance. I don't think it's an option to be honest and I think we need to be realistic."

The prime minister went on the attack on Friday, accusing Labor of being in “deep denial” about the budget “disaster” they had left behind, after Bill Shorten vowed to block billions of dollars worth of budget measures, including pension changes, restrictions on the dole for under 30s, fuel tax indexation and stripping benefits from some single-income families.

Abbott said Labor had a contradictory position on the co-payment, due to begin next July.

“How can it be alright to have a PBS (pharmaceutical benefit scheme) co-payment and not alright to pay a few dollars when you visit the GP? How can it be unconscionable for this Coalition government to propose a co-payment and not unconscionable for the Hawke government?” Abbott asked. (Bob Hawke introduced a co-payment in 1991, but the policy was axed the next year after Paul Keating took over the Labor leadership.)

Asked why he didn’t take the plan to establish a medical research fund from a co-payment to the last election, Abbott replied: “Sometimes you don’t have all your good ideas at once.”

The states remain deeply angered at the surprise $80bn cut to forecast federal grants for schools and hospitals, unveiled in the budget. The federal government says it will be up to the states to be “grown up” administrations that figure out how to raise revenue to cover their own expenses.

The states say the federal budget cuts are designed to force them to make the unpopular public case for a rise, or a broader application, of the goods and services tax (GST). With the premiers due to meet in Sydney on Sunday, Queensland premier Campbell Newman said he would be arguing that the federal government should just hand over a proportion of income taxes, with no strings attached – a plan that effectively passes the problem of a revenue shortfall back to the commonwealth.

“I will be arguing … on Sunday [that] the states should receive a share of the income tax that people in the states and territories actually pay in their day-to-day tax in the Australian Tax Office. I want to be crystal clear about this. I am not arguing for an increase in taxes. I’m arguing for a certain amount, a certain percentage, if you’d like, of the money that is collected from taxpayers in their normal working lives, to go back directly to the states. Without conditions, without constraints, without federal interference, but it should go directly back to the states so that we can properly run our budgets,” Newman said.

He ruled out arguing for a higher GST.

“I’m not playing that game. If the prime minister and the treasurer expect this state to go and ask for an increase in the GST, he’s mistaken. We’re not going to do that. We’ve said that before. But what we should be doing is saying the money that has been paid by Queensland mums and dads already, to Canberra, that is then put through the Canberra bureaucracy mixmaster and sent back out to the states, that should come directly to the state via the ATO. That’s the fair and appropriate way to do it.”

Victorian premier Denis Napthine said he wanted to get an immediate solution to deal with federal funding that has been withdrawn from July this year. But NSW premier Mike Baird, who on Thursday said the budget was like a “kick in the guts” for his state, was on Friday sharing a podium with Tony Abbott.

“Like any family you can have disagreements and come back together on the things you agree on,” Baird said, without backing down on his stand against the budget cuts.

Medicare co-payment and medical research fund may never happen | World news |