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Wednesday 23rd September 2015 - 3:56 pm
Comments Off on Government services hit as pay strike spreads

Government services hit as pay strike spreads

by Alan Thornhill

Strikes over a bitter pay dispute are continuing to disrupt Federal public services and they are expected to spread on Thursday afternoon.

The Community and Public Sector Union said in a statement Wednesday that tens of thousands of public sector workers would be out when Medicare, Tax Office staff and others join industrial action that has already hit international airports.

Their half-day action will begin at lunchtime.
It will also involve workers from the departments of Human Services, Employment, Environment, Education, Agriculture, Defence and Veteran Affairs, along with the Tax Office, the Bureau of Meteorology and the Bureau of Statistics.

The uinion’s National Secretary Nadine Flood said: “These workers are extremely frustrated with the Government’s 18-month attack on their rights and conditions.”

She said:“ We are calling on Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Minister Michaelia Cash (who assists him with public service matters) to rethink this failed bargaining policy and work with the union to find a sensible way forward.”

Ms Flood also said: “This dispute was caused by Government policy requiring Commonwealth agencies to go to war with their own workforce.”

Important workplace rights and conditions had been stripped from enterprise agreements.

Ms Flood said the strikers would include “mums and dads working at Centrelink and Medicare who are are deeply worried about the loss of family-friendly conditions.”

“The previous Minister responsible, Senator Eric Abetz, refused to even meet with the union to discuss these concerns since January,  2014,”  Ms Flood said.

She said the on-going industrial action is sending a clear message to the government.

“Minister Cash now has a clear opportunity to move away from the failed bargaining policy of her predecessor and instead take a modern, productive approach to public sector workplace relations,” she added.

Ms Flood  noted that Mr Turnbull had clearly stated that he does not want to wage war with workers or unions.

“We are calling on the Government to change the way it deals with its own workforce,” she declared.

She said, though, that  many government departments still do not have new enterprise agreements..

“Earlier this week workers with the Department of Immigration and Border Protection became the latest to emphatically reject the Government’s negotiating approach to date,” Ms Flood said.

 

 

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Monday 7th September 2015 - 11:55 am
Comments Off on Canning voters look to the future

Canning voters look to the future

by Alan Thornhill

Analysis

Matt Keogh, Labor’s candidate in the upcoming Canning by-election, says many voters there are worried by the Abbott government’s choice of a cheaper, but slower internet, than Labor had planned for its NBN.

Labor now sees this issue, which many had regarded as settled in the last general election, in a completely new way.

That is as a potential vote changer when the electors in Canning cast their ballots in this critically important poll on September 19.

Mr Keogh explained why, when he told reporters at the weekend, that many voters had raised the matter with him during his door knocking campaign.

He declared:”I am not surprised with the number of people who have serious concerns not only about their current telecommunications systems, but also about their ability for themselves and their children and even their grandchildren to be able to participate and compete in a world where around our region we see governments that have taken the future-proofing steps and made sure they have the highest quality broadband.”

It’s no secret that Western Australia’s neighbours, like India and South Korea, are upgrading their technologies – and living standards – rapidly.

And voters know it is all too easy to fall behind, in such a world.

Otherwise, though, this by-election, on September 19 is the poll almost no-one in Canberra wants.

Especially as it was occasioned by the untimely death of the popular Liberal member for that seat, Don Randall.

Yet Federal parliament is resuming today very much under its shadow.

This poll has assumed political importance far beyond that of the usual by-election.

That’s because, early in the campaign, media pundits began describing it as a test of the unpopular Tony Abbott’s grip on the nation’s top job, that of Prime Minister.

Although Mr Abbott, himself, does not accept that description, he has shown, by his actions, that he is prepared to treat it as a political reality.

Indeed, he tried two distractions, at the weekend.

On Father’s Day, he admitted that he, too, had been affected by the picture of a man, standing on a Middle East beach holding the body of his young son, a victim of the spreading Syrian conflict.

Then, he issued a 28 page flyer, on the second anniversary of his election, which also occurred at the weekend, listing his government’s achievements in its first two years.

That was headed by his claim that job growth, in Australia over that time, had been greater than that of every other G7 nation.

No doubt we will hear more of that – and other claims in the flyer – when question time gets under way later today.

These worries, of course, seem far away from the West Australian electorate of Canning, where that by-election campaign is now entering its final fortnight.

But it helps to explain why that upcoming event is attracting so little enthusiasm in Canberra, even among those who do not have quite so much directly at stake as either Tony Abbott or Bill Shorten, whose Labor leadership, is also seen by some, as a likely loss, if his party can’t chalk up at least a respectable result, on Saturday week.

There are, of course, always exceptions.

And some, even in Canberra, have been thinking of the Canning by-election with a little pleasure.

Your correspondent is one.

He spent a very happy childhood in what is now the neighbouring electorate of Hasluck, and often crossed the border to swim in Bickley Reservoir, play tennis in Kelmscott, or buy fruit grown in a Pickering Brook orchard.

For those unfortunate enough not to know, these near heavenly places are in the Canning electorate, on the South Eastern fringes of the Perth’s vast suburbs.

And well worth a few minutes reminiscence, on yet another busy day facing a demanding computer screen, in the national capital.

Thinking sympathetically, as always, of the plight of fellow West Australians, like the Federal MPs, on both sides of politics, who regularly risk deep vein thrombosis, sitting in over-crowded aeroplanes, making those 4,000 kilometre flights, between Perth and Canberra, to attend to their duties in both capitals.

Thursday 23rd July 2015 - 7:26 pm
Comments Off on The GST? there’s more work to do

The GST? there’s more work to do

by Alan Thornhill

Tony Abbott appealed for realism on tax reform today at the end of his second day of meetings with State premiers in Sydney.

“If you expected final answers today, you will be disappointed,” the Prime Minister told reporters afterwards.

The Premiers had been left wondering how they would pay for the school and hospital services they are expected to provide, after the Federal government announced that it would cut $80 billion from its payments to them, over four years.

The Abbott government made that announcement in its first budget, in May last year.

The Prime Minister urged a positive approach, before this week’s talks on tax and other Commonwealth State issues opened.

A range of options were put – and left – on the bargaining table – as the talks progressed.

An increase in the Medicare Levy, to cover rising health costs, was among them.

However the Prime Minister told the Premiers that he would prefer to raise the Goods and Services Tax.

He said, though, that raising the GST alone would not amount to satisfactory tax reform.

He said he was looking for changes in the tax mix which would make Australia more efficient and more prosperous.

The Leaders’ Retreat agreed in principle, on Wednesday, to apply GST to on-line overseas purchases under $1,000.

Federal and State Treasurers will be left to work out the details.

Local retailers have welcomed that decision.

The Chief Executive Officer of the Retail Council, Anna McPhee, said said that in-principle agreement is an important step towards ensuring goods and services consumed domestically are taxed in the same way.

She said Australia’s top retailers, who have been urging the government for several years to adopt this tax integrity measure.

Thursday 23rd July 2015 - 11:11 am
Comments Off on GST on foreign purchases to be broadened

GST on foreign purchases to be broadened

by Alan Thornhill

The Goods and Services Tax is to be broadened to include on-line overseas transactions worth less than $1,000.

The announcement was buried deep in a communiqué that Federal and State leaders issued after the first day of their retreat in Sydney.

It said:” all Leaders agreed to keep Commonwealth and State tax changes on the table including the GST and the Medicare levy.

” As a first step, there was agreement in principle by Leaders to broaden the GST to cover overseas online transactions under $1000.

“This matter will be referred to the upcoming meeting of Treasurers to progress in detail.”

The Prime Minister, State Premiers and Territory Chief Ministers who attended also agreed that changes will be needed to put the necessary reforms into effect.

That was acknowledged in the communiqué.

It said:” the key to providing the services Australians aspire to is a more productive and faster growing economy.

“Improving the way our Federation works will improve Australia’s overall fiscal position and our national productivity.

“Achieving this reform will require both the Commonwealth and the States to make policy changes that would both improve the climate for business, and ensure more efficient delivery of government services while keeping taxes as low as possible.”

The leaders will continue to talk tax as their meeting continues today.

However they will also be discussing better ways of financing Australia’s health and education services.

Wednesday 22nd July 2015 - 2:32 pm
Comments Off on Prices:how you were hit

Prices:how you were hit

by Alan Thornhill

Australian motorists might be forgiven for believing they have been mugged at the petrol pump over the past three months.

The Bureau of Statistics reports that automotive fuel prices throughout Australia jumped by 12.2 per cent in that time, the biggest quarterly rise in 25 years.

That rise neatly reversed a 12.2 per cent fall on the same indicator, in the final three months of last year.

The Bureau packs highly volatile fuel prices into a category it calls its transport group.

It reports that transport prices – measured in this way – rose by 3.4 per cent in the three months to the end of June.

Perhaps surprisingly, though, the Bureau also reports that the overall prices Australians pay for their transport fell by 2.4 per cent in the 12 months to the end of June.

So how else have we been hit by price movements?

Overall, Australian prices, measured on the Bureau’s consumer price index, rose by 0.7 per cent in the June quarter and 1.5 per cent over the year.

What, though, of the particulars?

Well, the Bureau reported that our housing prices rose by 0.7 per cent in the quarter and 2.5 per cent over the year.

It said the main contributors to the annual rise were a 4.8 per cent rise in the price of new homes purchased by owner occupiers and a 1.9 per cent rise in rents.

The Bureau also calculated that recreation and culture prices fell by 1.4 per cent in the quarter, but rose by 0.9 per cent over the year.

It said, too, that its health group prices rose by 2.7 per cent in the quarter and 4.3 per cent over the year.

The price of food and non-alcoholic beverages fell by 0.2 per cent in the quarter, on the Bureau’s calculations, but rose by 1.3 per cent over the year.

Thursday 2nd July 2015 - 10:28 am
Comments Off on Co-payments:not quite dead yet

Co-payments:not quite dead yet

by Alan Thornhill

Were you surprised this week to receive an account from your doctor who usually bulk bills?

Well, the doctor’s hand may have been forced.

The Federal government has never – quite – given up the idea that people who visit their doctors should make some kind of co-payment.

The Health Minister, Sussan Ley, made that clear in a recent radio interview, saying:”there are a lot of people who attend a doctor, who pay nothing who can afford to pay a bit more – and that’s where we have to land in this discussion with the medical profession.”

However the Federal government has never been able to win the Senate’s approval for the $7 co-payment, it announced in its first budget last year.

But the Abbott government hasn’t let matters rest there.

It has just imposed a four year freeze on Medicare rebates.

That was done without the usual formal announcement of the move.

Even though the highly respected Medical Journal of Australia says that could lead to higher charges than the original GP Tax.

The Acting Shadow Minister for Health, Tanya Plibersek, says this amounts to the introduction of a GP co-payment “by stealth.”

And she warned that:” the freeze, which began yesterday, will rip $1.3 billion out of general practice over the next four years.”

She adds:” millions of patients are set to be hit with a GP Tax even bigger than the original proposal from today under Tony Abbott’s four year freeze on Medicare rebates.

Ms Plibersek says, too, that the rebate freeze is “just the latest version of the GP Tax which has seen the Government attempt to slug patients with a $7 fee, a $5 fee a $20 fee and now an $8.43 fee through the back door.”

She sees support for her case in an article published in The Medical Journal of Australia.

The article, called “The Cost of Freezing General Practice” says:”… the freeze will have greater impact with time — nearly double the amount of the rebate reduction by 2017–18.”

And it warns:”for economic reasons, the freeze may still force GPs who currently bulk bill to charge co-payments.

Ms Plibersek says the rebate freeze would impose an up-front charge between patients and their GP, destroying Medicare’s universal health care.

And she added this”…confirms Tony Abbott’s promise that the GP Tax is dead is as believable as his promises before the election of no new taxes and no cuts to health.

“The Abbott Government remains committed to the GP Tax and Medicare will never be safe under Tony Abbott,” Ms Plibersek said.

The government has yet to reply.

Thursday 25th June 2015 - 1:45 pm
Comments Off on Government sees “strong progress” in Budget repair

Government sees “strong progress” in Budget repair

by Alan Thornhill

The Federal government says it is making “strong progress” in repairing the budget.

The Treasurer, Joe Hockey. and Finance Minister, Mathias Cormann, made the claim today in a joint statement.

They said:” As the first half of the Parliamentary year draws to a close, the Government is getting things done.

“We have made good progress to repair the Budget and are implementing our plan for stronger growth and more jobs for all Australians.

“Over the past fortnight we were able to pass key measures in our Small Business and Jobs package through the Senate, as well as more than $14 billion in Budget repair measures.”

They said, too, that:”We’ve have made significant improvements to the Budget bottom line.”

These included:-
* $2.8 billion from Labor 2013-14 Budget Savings (Measures No. 1) Bill 2014 (Cancellation of 2015-16 tax changes linked to the carbon tax – first proposed by Labor in their 2013-14 Budget).
* $0.5 billion from the Tax and Superannuation Laws Amendment (2015 Measures No. 1) Bill 2015 (including the abolition of First Home Saver Accounts and the abolition of the Dependent Spouse Tax Offset)
* $2.4 billion with the passage of the Social Services Legislation Amendment (Fair and Sustainable Pensions) Bill 2015.
* $1.1 billion with the passage of Social Services and Other Legislation Amendment (Seniors Supplement Cessation) Bill 2014.
* $3.6 billion over the five year period to the end of 2018-19 with the passage of the bi-annual petrol indexation measures.
· $257 million from the Government’s changes to excise for domestically manufactured biodiesel and fuel ethanol commencing on 1 July 2015.
* $465 million from the Government’s changes to improve integrity of social security income test arrangements.
* $3.2 billion from the Appropriation Bills which provide for the efficient delivery of Government operations.

“Since last year’s Budget more than $50 billion in budget repair measures have now been legislated.” the two ministers said.

“But there is more to be done.

“We will continue to work methodically and in a prioritised fashion through our plan for stronger growth, more jobs and to repair the Budget,” they added.

Thursday 25th June 2015 - 4:23 pm
Comments Off on Health policy “driven by ideology” report

Health policy “driven by ideology” report

by Alan Thornhill

A Senate Committee has delivered a stinging rebuke to the Abbott government over its health policies.

In an interim report just published, the Senate Select Committee on Health noted that since “coming to power the Abbott Government has repeatedly called into question the sustainability of Medicare.”

But it added:” the evidence given to this committee and documented in this report reveals the fallacy of such claims particularly with regard to GPs and the Medicare Benefits Scheme.”

In fact, the committee said:” Australia delivers some of the best quality and best value hospitals and primary healthcare in the world.”

And it does so at low cost.

The committee says Australia’s spending on health at 9.1 per cent per cent of GDP – is lower than comparable OECD countries.

The committee says health spending in the United States accounts for 17 per cent of that nation’s GDP.

In France health care spending takes 11.2 per cent of GDP.

Canada spends 10.6 per cent of its GDP on health care.

And in New Zealand, health care costs amount to 10.3 per cent of GDP.

But in both the United Kingdom and Spain these costs are broadly similar to Australia’s, at 9.1 per cent.

The committee also recalled that, before the last election, Tony Abbott had promised that there would be “no cuts to health” if he became Prime Minister.

Yet in its first Budget, his government “had abolished a number of national partnership agreements with the States and Territories,” the committee said.

At question time in Parliament later, the Opposition Leader, Bill Shorten, asked Mr Abbott, why he had cut $50 billion from projected health spending.

The Prime Minister’s response was brief.

“There is no truth whatsoever in the Opposition Leader’s assertion,” he said.

The report had said: “The cuts to health were met with the opposition from each premier and chief minister.”

And the public had been affected.

“The impacts on State and Territory budgets and the healthcare sector are already well documented and being felt in frontline delivery,” the committee said.

And that is likely to get worse.

” The 2014-15 Budget reveals cuts to health in the order of $50 billion dollars over the next ten years,” it added.

The committee didn’t have a kind word, either, for the Federal government’s unpopular plan for a $7 co-payment by patients who visit bulk-billing doctors, even though that plan was finally axed in March this year.

In fact, after conducting hearings throughout Australia, it found that:” the overwhelming sentiment of witnesses was that the $7 co-payment will have a negative impact on the health and wellbeing of all Australians and is practically unworkable.”

The committee also found that the government had been guided by ideology, rather than facts, in its decisions on health issues.

“They appear to be driven by ideology rather than based on evidence and have not been developed within a vision and framework of systemic reform,” it said.

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