by Alan Thornhill
Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk says the number of homes damaged by Cyclone Marcia in that State at the weekend is far higher than first thought.
Preliminary estimates put the number about 550.
However Ms Palaszczuk said later reports put the number at “three times” that level.
She said at least 100 homes had been “severely impacted.”
The ABC reports that phones and the internet are down in the flood-isolated central Queensland town of Biloela.
Major clean up operations are also under way in Yeppoon and Rockhampton.
A local councillor said the flooding in Biloela was the worst local residents had ever seen.
The ABC also reports that people in the tiny township of Marmor, 45 kilometres south of Rockhampton, are struggling to cope in the aftermath of the cyclone.
Karen Johnstone and her partner Robert Holness huddled in the laundry of their home while Marcia tore it apart around them.
“The front door kept swinging open.
“We ended up nailing it shut.
“Then, all of a sudden, the panels here just blew out and gusts of wind were blowing through the roof,” Ms Johnstone said.
by Alan Thornhill
Labor says the Federal Finance Minister, Mathias Cormann, has confirmed that the government is planning another attack on universal health care.
The shadow health minister, Catherine King, based her assertion on a comment Senator Cormann made on Sky television.
He had been asked about talks the government has held with the Australian Medical Association and other health system stake-holders.
The government has been trying to introduce co-payments for visits to doctors who bulk bill their patients.
So far, though, its plans have been blocked by a hostile Senate.
Senator Cormann was asked in a television interview if the government would try again, perhaps by means testing bulk billing.
He replied:” We will have some more to say about that in the coming months.
” And no doubt there will be something in relation to this in the Budget.
Ms King said Senator Cormann:”….has confirmed the Abbott Government is preparing to wreck Medicare by ending universal access to health care.”
She added:”the Finance Minister’s revelation comes just hours after the new Health Minister, Sussan Ley, failed to rule out means testing bulk-billing.”
“Means testing bulk billing would mark the end of Medicare,” Ms King said.
It would leave Australia with a two-tiered American-style health system.
Bulk billing would become a second class safety net.
“And everyone else would be forced to pay for every visit to the doctor,” Ms King said.
by Alan Thornhill
The Federal government’s present – acute – problems began with its first budget, last May, which was seen as unfair.
Tough on low income earners.
Too much crude cost cutting.
That kind of thing.
As its now close to the half-way mark, in its first term, the government might well be grateful, for advice on something better.
Something that might well lift in the presently disastrous polls.
Oddly, that has fallen into its hands.
Albeit from an unlikely source.
The Australian Council of Social Service had its own motivations, in drawing up its submission for the next Federal government.
Overwhelmingly, they could be classed as seeking a better deal for the less than well off.
Even so, the government might be well advised to take a close look at that submission, which was published today.
For the sake of its own survival.
ACOSS says it has identified more than $13 billion of potential savings in the next financial year, rising to over $18 billion in 2016-17.
It says that can be achieved through measures that “restore the integrity of Australia’s progressive tax system.
The Council’s Executive Director, Dr Cassandra Goldie, said: “This (coming) Budget must be a lot fairer than the last one.
“And the way this can be achieved is by seriously targeting wasteful spending at the top end, including tax expenditures, instead of pursing policies that shift the burden on to people on the lowest incomes.”
But what would that really mean?
Dr Goldie had a few suggestions.
“Much of the real waste in the national Budget is on the tax expenditure side, in the form of tax concessions which predominantly benefit people on the highest incomes.
“And this must be a priority in the next Budget,” she said.
“A fair Budget must include action to close current loopholes in the personal income tax system, which allow relatively well-off individuals to avoid tax by diverting and ‘sheltering’ their income or income producing assets in structures such as discretionary trusts and private companies,” she added.
“ACOSS estimates that tightening the use of private trusts to avoid personal income tax would save as much as $1 billion in 2016-17 and a further $1 billion would be saved by curbing the use of private companies used for the same purpose,” Dr Goldie said.
“We must also take steps in this budget for long overdue reforms of negative gearing, superannuation tax concessions, and Capital Gains Tax concessions, which collectively are costing us billions in foregone revenue.
“The removal of CGT concessions for small businesses would save $1 billion in 2016-17.
“These concessions encourage over-investment in business assets against other options to improve business profitability and are a high risk retirement savings strategy.
“ Reforms to negative gearing tax concessions would generate a further $1 billion, increasing over time,” Dr Goldie added.
There’s a lot more in the ACOSS submission, too.
Not, necessarily, the kind of advice the government wants.
But an early return to the opposition benches is an uncomfortable thought, too.
by Alan Thornhill
A decision, taken abruptly in Switzerland last week, still hasn’t had the attention it deserves in Australia.
The repercussions will not, as some local reports suggest, be restricted to watches and chocolate.
The Swiss National Bank startled global currency markets last Thursday, when it scrapped its cap on the Euro.
Over the past three years, the bank had been trying to keep the Euro at 1.20 Swiss Francs.
The idea, which involved heavy purchases of the Euro, was to keep Swiss industry competitive.
But the cost – and pressures – were enormous.
And they finally became too great.
The value of the Swiss Franc rose sharply, after the bubble burst.
But Switzerland is not among Australia’s major trading partners.
So why should we worry?
Nobody, least of all Private Briefing, is suggesting that we should.
Just that there are some points to watch.
The Global Economic Crisis, after all, was set off by the collapse of the then relatively unknown firm of Lehman Brothers.
Sudden changes, like the SNB’s decision last week, do have consequences.
And one of the most common is that some people, at least, lose pots of money.
The SNB’s decapitation of the Euro – for want of a better word – is no exception.
A major US retail foreign exchange broker, EXCM Inc., is probably the biggest casualty so far.
It had to be rescued with a $300 million lifeline from the investment firm Leucadia National Corp.
Citigroup Inc. and Deutsche Bank each chalked up $US150 million losses too, according to Bloomberg.
These institutions are far from alone.
One private investor confessed to feeling “disappointed” and “let down” by the SNB’s decision.
That’s not surprising.
Few, if any, countries in the world have better reputations than Switzerland, in financial affairs.
And, if we call China the workshop of the world, it is not too far fetched to think of Switzerland as the world’s banker.
Certainly, a great deal of money has been parked in that country, because Switzerland was regarded as a safe place for it to be.
It still is.
But, as last Thursday’s events showed, there can be surprises, from time to time, even in Switzerland.
by Alan Thornhill
Feeling the heat?
Or anxiously watching television reports of fierce bushfires, destroying homes in the Adelaide Hills?
In both cases, the Climate Council says, climate change is “a major factor.”
In all of that – and a whole lot more.
Despite Tony Abbott’s continuing scepticism, the Council today issued an historic statement on the subject.
The Council is an independent organisation, set up to provide clear, easily understood facts on climate change.
It was formed by former members of the Climate Commission after the Prime Minister, a self-proclaimed climate change sceptic, abolished that body last year.
Professor Will Steffen, a Councillor in the new organisation, is an acknowledged expert on climate change.
A scientist, he has conducted extensive research on climate change, at the Australian National University.
And he was not holding back, in a statement he issued, on the Council’s behalf, today.
It declared today that: “…climate change is a major factor in the record-breaking heat that Australians experienced throughout 2014.
“This follows from the announcement from the Bureau of Meteorology that Australia has experienced its 3rd hottest year since records began.”
The Council also said: “2013 was the hottest year on record, and 2005 the second hottest.
“In the last 35 years 29 years have been hotter than average, while only six years have been below average.”
And it declared bluntly: “It is worrying that these sort of records are now being broken so regularly.
“The impact of climate change on these trends is very clear.
“Climate change is making Australia hotter and more prone to bush fires,” Professor Steffen said.
“Another in Australia’s string of ‘Angry Summers’ is underway,” he warned.
“Severe bushfires are raging in South Australia and Victoria following the hottest Spring on record and the hottest November on record.”
“An obvious implication of hotter temperatures is worsening bushfire conditions.
“Over the past four decades, climate change has increased the occurrence of high fire danger weather in the southeast – exactly the type of conditions that have led to the early January fires in South Australia and Victoria,” Professor Steffen said.
by Alan Thornhill
Jenny Macklin says Scott Morrison was wrong when he said welfare savings will be needed to fund the National Disability Insurance Scheme.
The Shadow Minister for Disability Reform insisted that the NDIS is already fully funded.
So far Mr Morrison, the new Social Security Minister, has not replied.
Ms Macklin said:“In today’s Australian Mr Morrison incorrectly called into question the financial sustainability of the NDIS.”
But she declared: “The NDIS is fully funded into the future.
“Labor made sure of it by introducing a 0.5 per cent increase in the Medicare levy.”
Ms Macklin accused Mr Morrison of making “… a disgusting and cynical attempt…to use the NDIS “as a cover for the Abbott Government’s next round of savage cuts to vulnerable Australians.”
“Mr Morrison should think twice before trying to use the NDIS to advance his own political interests,” she said.
Ms Macklin said the increase in the Medicare levy would raise around $20 billion between 2014-15 and 2018-19.
“Some of this revenue will go to the states to fund their share of the NDIS.
The Labor Government Labor allocated $14.3 billion over seven years to rollout the NDIS across Australia,” Ms Macklin said.
by Alan Thornhill
The Federal government wants to make the movement of skilled workers – and goods – between Australia and New Zealand easier.
And it is asking the Productivity Commission for advice how this might be done.
The Treasurer, Joe Hockey, and Industry Minister, Ian Macfarlane, revealed this in a statement today.
They said they are seeking a ‘mutual recognition arrangements.’
They said the review would help to identify regulatory barriers to the movement of goods and skilled workers.
“MRAs allow goods that can be lawfully sold in one jurisdiction to be sold in other jurisdictions without having to meet additional requirements,” they added.
“Similarly, people registered to practise an occupation in one jurisdiction are entitled to practise an equivalent occupation in other jurisdictions.”
“The Trans-Tasman MRA extends this model of mutual recognition to New Zealand, with some limitations,” they added.
“The benefits include lower costs to business and improved competitiveness from single standards for manufacturing; greater choice for consumers and greater cooperation between regulatory authorities.
“These MRAs are reviewed every five years to identify ways of improving recognition processes and removing barriers.
The said the findings would be considered in the context of the Government’s Industry Innovation and Competitiveness Agenda.
The Competitiveness Agenda is a central part of the Government’s Economic Action Strategy to build a strong, prosperous economy by strengthening Australia’s competitiveness.
The Productivity Commission is due to report back to the Government within nine months. The Productivity Commission will consult widely as part of the review, with information available on the Productivity Commission website
by Alan Thornhill
The Federal gpovernment has dropped its controversial $7 Medicare cop-payment,which has been blocked in the Senate since May.
The Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, who made the announcement, said it would be replaced by a package of measures that “will strengthen Medicare and help make it sustainable, ensuring Australians will continue to have access to affordable, world-class health care.”
His announcement was blunt.
The $7 Medicare co-payment measure announced in the 2014-15 Budget will no longer proceed.
“The Government will instead implement a package of measures that will strengthen Medicare and help make it sustainable, ensuring Australians will continue to have access to affordable, world-class health care.
“The Government has listened to the views of the community, he added.
“This new package ensures the Government can make Medicare sustainable, improve the quality of care for patients and continue its repair of the Budget.
“The Medicare rebate paid to doctors for some consultations will be reduced by $5 and the troublesome issue of ‘six minute medicine’ will be addressed by encouraging doctors to spend more time with patients.”
However the Opposition Leader, Bill Shorten, questioned the veracity of Mr Abbott’s announcement.
He said the Prime Minister is now trying to introduce a co-payment “through the back door.”
“Yes, the real issue here is that it’s still a tax on going to the doctor and it’s still a broken promise,” Mr Shorten said in an interview.
” It’s the thin edge of the wedge.”
Mr Abbott also spoke of what he called an “optional co-payment and protection for patients.
“A new optional co-payment will be introduced for GP services with additional protections for patients,” he said.
“The Government will not impose a co-payment on GP services provided to pensioners, Commonwealth concession card holders, all children under the age of 16, veterans funded through the Department of Veterans’ Affairs, attendances at residential aged care facilities and pathology and diagnostic imaging services,” he added.
“Incentives paid to doctors to encourage them to bulk bill concession card holders and children under the age of 16 will also remain,” Mr Abbott added.
“Medicare rebates for common GP consultations will be reduced by $5 for non-concessional patients aged 16 and over from 1 July 2015.
Doctors may choose to recoup the $5 rebate reduction through an optional co-payment or continue to bulk bill non-concessional patients over the age of 16.
“Doctors will be under no obligation to charge the co-payment and this decision will be entirely at their discretion,” he said.
He said his government is by tackling ‘six minute medicine’
“In a further move to streamline Medicare and improve quality outcomes, the Government will make changes to standard GP consultation items which currently provide the same Medicare rebate for a six minute consultation as for a 19 minute consultation.
“This change will ensure that Medicare expenditure more accurately reflects the time a GP spends with a patient.
“It encourages a shift away from ‘six minute medicine’ so that appropriate, comprehensive care is better rewarded over patient throughput.
“Additionally Medicare fees for all services provided by GPs, medical specialists, allied health practitioners, optometrists and others will remain at their current level until July 2018.
Making Medicare Sustainable and the Medical Research Future Fund
“The Government is committed to taking these prudent measures to protect Medicare.
“Medicare will not survive in the long term without changes to make it sustainable,” Mr Abbott said.
“In the last decade spending on Medicare has more than doubled from $8 billion in 2004 to $20 billion today, yet we raise only $10 billion from the Medicare levy. Spending is projected to climb to $34 billion in the next decade to 2024.
“In the last year alone, 275 million services were provided free to patients. That’s three out of every four Medicare services being bulk billed.
“These changes will contribute more than $3 billion to the Medical Research Future Fund which will fund the research needed to find cures to the health problems of today.
“In six years the returns from the MRFF will provide a billion dollars to be invested in medical research annually – doubling our national funding commitments to researchers,” the Prime Minister said.
Weathercoast by Alan Thornhill
A novel on the murder of seven young Anglican Christian Brothers in the Solomon Islands.
Available now on the iTunes store.
Alan Thornhill is a parliamentary press gallery journalist.
Private Briefing is updated daily with Australian personal finance news, analysis, and commentary.
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