SUBJECT/S:  Tony Abbott’s GP Tax; Abbott Government dudding South Australia; generation inequality



CHRIS HAMMER: Michelle Rowland is the Labor Member for Greenway in Sydney. Good morning.


HAMMER: The Government has moved to change its policy on GPs and Medicare. It will now continue bulk billing for pensioners, for children, and for healthcare card holders. This is a good thing isn’t it?

ROWLAND:  Chris, the reality is that this is still a GP tax. A GP tax by stealth, an item that they did not take to the last election and an issue in which I think the community has a deep sense of distrust in this Government to act in their best interests. I think at the end of it we will still see GPs choosing to impose this charge on their patients. And the fact that this Minister even comes forward and says that “this is a better proposal than the one we had before, we’ve really done a good job this time”, what does that say about this Minister and his competence? I think it speaks volumes about the inability of this Government, not only to construct a coherent policy, but to prosecute the case for it.

Doesn’t it show that the Government is listening, that it’s taking into account the views of the population and of the Senate crossbench?

ROWLAND: This isn’t listening, this is panic. This is a Government in panic mode and you can see this happening across a range of issues. Tony Abbott said “there’s more to come, watch this space”. It’s a Government that is reactionary. It’s finally realised in December - this Budget was handed down in May - in December we’re still talking about these issues and they think in political terms what is referred to as “taking out the trash”, all the unpopular issues. Well I hate to tell you; it doesn’t matter how many times you take this trash out, it still remains unpopular in the electorate because the community is onto this Government and what they’re trying to do.

HAMMER: Is this change a policy, as the Government says, pensioners, children, concession card holders, they’re going to be protected. Isn’t that a core Labor belief, you protect the less well off?

ROWLAND: It always has been and that’s why we want to preserve Medicare and not have a system that undermines universal health care. And Chris, I think you need to remember that I have been debating and listening to Coalition MPs, including these complaining backbenchers that we speak of now, and they have all been saying “oh, well, we have too many older people going to the doctor, we have too many younger people going to the doctor”. Apparently we’re a nation of hypochondriac old people and neurotic mothers. I just think that that’s absolutely insulting and I also think that it completely undermines this Government’s key argument which is “we need to ensure the sustainability of Medicare”. This isn’t about sustainability; it’s about undermining universal health care in this country.

HAMMER: Why is universality in visits to the GP so important? Given the Government’s pressure on its Budget, shouldn’t those who can pay a bit more to see a GP pay more?

ROWLAND: Two things to note Chris: firstly, we do have a system in Australia where healthcare is not free. We contribute to the healthcare costs in this country through a Medicare levy. That’s the first point to make. The second point is this notion that you can have different tiers of people paying different rates goes straight to the issue of undermining universality, and I don’t think Australians want to see a country where Medicare is betrayed, where we have a Prime Minister who still asserts that he is the best friend of Medicare when we know that he’s not.

HAMMER: We have all throughout our system different tiers of people paying different rates? That’s the whole idea of the taxation system; the more you earn, the more you pay. Why shouldn’t that be the same in healthcare?

ROWLAND: It is the case in healthcare already as I mentioned. We already have a levy which is imposed on people and you pay more depending on your income. And I think one of the other key points to note is not only is this Government arguing that this is about sustainability of Medicare, they’ve also argued it’s about having this medical research fund, it’s also about paying down the deficit. They haven’t even been able to prosecute the case of why these changes are needed and what they’re actually going to achieve.

HAMMER: Moving on. The Government has been in its own words “scrape off some barnacles”, in your words “take out some trash”. One of the issues it’s been facing in South Australia is the whole issue of where the next generation of submarines should be built. The Defence Minister David Johnston mentioned that Australia should have a ‘sovereign submarine program’ but didn’t explain what that meant. What do you take it to mean?

ROWLAND: This is simply more bungling from this Government. They found a title for something that they want to encapsulate into some sort of policy, the only problem is they haven’t thought up a policy yet. And the reason for that is the current policy they have is based on a broken promise. The promise was to build these submarines in South Australia. And we know that the public are onto these people, you only have to look at the by-election outcome that happened over the weekend. South Australians have been dudded, they’ve been dudded on the issue of the automotive industry, they’ve been dudded on this issue of subs and I think this Government clearly is still fighting amongst itself when it comes to this portfolio. Not only have they done those two duddings specific to South Australia, but also dudding the armed services in relation to their pay and their entitlements. We even see the South Australian Minister Jamie Briggs clearly undermining the Defence Minister. The Assistant Defence Minister Stuart Robert clearly undermining his senior Minister. All we have at the moment is a title. Even reading about the reports yesterday when this was announced, every single piece of commentary said, “we have a title but no one knows what this means”.

HAMMER: Finally, there’s a new report from the Grattan Institute pointing out some real problems of generation inequality; that older Australians, wealthier Australians are doing really well out of superannuation concessions, capital gains concessions, etcetera, and that wealth can flow through their families but other families who don’t have that wealth; a new generation there’ll be a greater inequality. What can government do about that, and should it try and do something?

ROWLAND: I’m going to have a look at this report, Chris, I think it will make very interesting contemplation for everyone interested in policies in this area. There are a couple of things to note. Firstly, Labor when it was in Government wanted to crack down and have a fairer system for taxation on high earning superannuants. That has been done away with under this Government, so you can see how that directly feeds into the findings of this report. The second is, we have three pillars of income support in this country of retirement incomes. You have pensions which clearly rely on government input, savings which has always been an issue, and superannuation. Now on the last two issues, by not increasing the superannuation guarantee in line with Labor’s tranches, by not increasing that from 9 to 12 per cent, I think we are going to see even more young people less well off as they get older, not only at the age they are now. The second issue is savings. Young people not being able to keep up with counterparts in areas such as not being able to buy a house. In my own area here in North-West Sydney, we have a brand new suburb that’s just about finished. The starting price to get into a home in these areas is about $850,000. If I was a young person starting out, quite frankly that would be a hill too high to climb for me. So I think that all policy makers should look very closely at the evidence presented in these reports and respond accordingly. But I can tell you this also, Chris, we’re not going to have young people getting any sense of equality if they’re going to be saddled with a debt for life under this Government’s proposed university changes either.

HAMMER: Okay. Michelle Rowland, thanks for your time today.

ROWLAND: My pleasure. Happy Christmas.