by Alan Thornhill
The Federal government is aiming to save $1.1 billion a year, by targeting “leakage, waste and abuse” in the welfare system.
However the Treasurer, Scott Morrison, who announced this crackdown today, said people who are entitled to welfare payments would continue to get them.
He was announcing the Coalition’s financial targets, for the three years following the July 2 election.
However the Greens ridiculed Mr Morrison’s statement, saying he was urging that Australia’s social security system be automated and upgraded even though its staff cannot even answer their phone calls.
Senator Rachel Siewert – the Greens spokesperson on Community Services – said Mr Morrison is advocating that Australia’s social security system be “automated and upgraded” when his staff cannot even answer their phones.
“After 22 million missed calls last year amongst other issues, there are many Australian’s accessing income support of some form, be it Family Tax Benefit, Paid Parental Leave, Disability Support Pension, Youth Allowance, Newstart, Carers Allowance, who feel extremely frustrated,” Senator Siewert said.
“The missed calls are just the tip of the iceberg,” she added.
by Alan Thornhill
The profound changes in the ways in which Australians now work are reflected in detailed figures the Bureau of Statistics published today.
Although they were for February last year, they paint a picture of a modern work scene which still exists today.
It is one which Australian workers, of previous generations would barely recognise.
Full employment was dominant back then.
Not any more.
The bureau reported that in February 2015, when its latest job Participation, Job Search and Mobility survey was conducted, 33 per cent of Australia’s working age population was not in the nation’s work-force.
It estimated then that of the civilian population aged 15 years and over 6.3 million people were not in the labor force, 835,900 were unemployed and 11.7 million were employed.
Of the 6.3 million people not in the labour force:
- 3.7 million (59 per cent were females)
- 1.3 million wanted to work (23 per cent% of females and 18 per cent of males); and
- 15 per cent were aged 15–24 years, 40 per cent were aged 25–64 years and 45 per cent were aged 65 years and over.
Of the 835,900 unemployed people::
- 444,600 (53 per cent) were males;
- 217,200 people had been looking for work for 1 year or more; and
- 21 per cent were aged 25-34.
Of the 11.7 million employed people::
- 10.6 million (91 per cent) were fully employed; and
- 1 million were underemployed.
Of the 1 million underemployed workers:
- 960,700 people who usually worked part-time, but would prefer more hours and were available to start work with more hours either in the reference week, or in the four weeks following the interview; and
- 75,100 usually worked full-time, but worked part-time hours in the reference week due to economic reasons For example, because, no work – or not enough work – was available, or because they had been stood down.
by Alan Thornhill
For the first time in the present election campaign, Bill Shorten appears to have seized the initiative.
He did that on Sunday, when he declared that the vote July 2 would be “a referendum on Medicare.”
In doing so, he greatly increased his chances of becoming Prime Minister.
But he still has to win 21 seats to do that.
The Prime Minster’s response, to this challenge from the Opposition Leader, was to say – very forcefully – that it was based on “a lie.”
Malcolm Turnbull told reporters in Sydney today that Labor had been ringing older people in the evening, saying “Medicare is going to be sold off.
“Medicare will be privatised.
” This is the biggest lie of the campaign.”
“I want to be very clear. Medicare will never ever be privatised,” Mr Turnbull said.
“Every element of Medicare services that is currently being delivered by government will continue to be delivered by government. Full stop,” Mr Turnbull said.
Labor strategists remained cool, saying simply that their charges are “biting.”
A reporter had asked Mr Turnbull why voters should accept his latest promises on Medicare when his predecessor, Tony Abbott, had not kept his.
The Medicare debate has caught fire, among voters.
Reports in Fairfax newspapers today help to explain why.
The headline on one, in The Sydney Morning Herald, says: ‘Narcissistic’ surgeons charge cancer patients exorbitant out-of-pocket costs without disclosing
It quotes chief executive of Cancer Council Australia, Sanchia Aranda, saying : “the most brazen example was robotic surgery for prostate cancer.”
She said these cases attracted out-of-pocket fees of between $15,000 to $30,000, even though there is no evidence to suggest robotic surgery offered patients better cancer or functional outcomes than a standard prostatectomy when performed by a surgeon of equal skill.
“We know of patients who are mortgaging their houses because they are being led to believe that these flashy new types of procedures are the best way to have their cancer treated,” Professor Aranda added.
by Alan Thornhill
An industry watchdog did Malcolm Turnbull no favours when it alleged there had been dirty work at the cross-roads as the Federal government moved to sell off Medibank Private.
Its action, just weeks before a Federal election. allowed some to suggest that Medicare, too, might soon be on the auction block.
The Medicare Private sale had been profitable, raising almost $5.7 billion, which the Federal government said would be spent on infrastructure projects.
Now, though, that watchdog, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) has accused Medibank of “engaging in misleading conduct,” to raise that very tidy sum.
Although the case has yet to be decided, unions have been out in the streets of Australian cities today, handing out brochures warning that the Federal government is now planning to sell Medicare as well.
The Prime Minister responded angrily, rejecting that accusation “absolutely” and accusing Labor of “frightening” old people, in particular, by telling them “disgraceful lies.”
Scare campaigns are not entirely unknown, in Australian elections.
Both sides, at times, have accused their rivals of indulging in them.
This time, though, the tension evident in Mr Turnbull’s voice, as he rejected that allegation, showed that he recognises that Medicare might still become a decisive issue, in the present campaign.
Speaking in a radio interview, he said his government would: “absolutely, completely, unequivocally guarantee Medicare will not be privatised – will never be privatised. ”
“It is a core government service,” he said.
“It will always be provided entirely by the government,” the Prime Minister added.
The interviewer, Neil Mitchell, then said: “So you are just selling off the support area?”
Mr Turnbull replied: “It is one of the most disgraceful lies the Labor Party is telling.
“And they have trade union officials ringing up people, selective, they are ringing up in particular older Australians and frightening them with this lie.”
“ Medicare is a core government service.”
“It will always be provided by the government.”
““ It will never be privatised,” Mr Turnbull said.
by Alan Thornhill
Malcolm Turnbull is facing pressure from all sides over his plan to place caps on the tax advantages that come with superannuation.
While some Liberal Senators are already threatening revolt if the Prime Minister goes ahead with his plan, after winning the July 2 elections a much bigger group-pensioners- is letting him know that they will be unhappy if he doesn’t.
They made their views known, in a news statement early today.
They said:”The nation’s seniors peak body, COTA Australia, and the Australian Council of Social Service (ACOSS) signed a joint letter to the Prime Minister, concerned that good policy was under threat from pressure being applied by a small number of adversely effected individuals.
COTA recently surveyed its membership Election Panel and 87 per cent agreed that ‘the current tax concessions on superannuation contribution favour the well-off’.
The COTA and ACOSS joint letter calls on the Government to hold firm on key features of its Budget superannuation reforms:
“we write to urge you to hold firm in resisting calls to weaken, defer or abandon the key features…of the superannuation reform package contained in your recent Federal Budget.
We have…been very concerned that the tax treatment of superannuation prior to this Budget was not ‘fit for purpose’.
“Superannuation had become a wealth and estate management tool, especially for those with the highest incomes, and this has been having a seriously negative affect on the integrity, credibility and cost of our superannuation system.
“The Budget measures to limit the amount of accumulated superannuation on which earnings will be tax free; to place a lifetime limit on the level of non-concessional contributions; and to lower the annual limit on concessional contributions all go a significant way to addressing those concerns.
“The existing tax system offers too little support for people with low incomes, most of whom are women. The proposed tax offset for low income earners…will have a positive impact…and must be pursued.”
COTA and ACOSS also wrote to the Opposition Leader and Leader of the Greens to urge consensus:
by Alan Thornhill
Tax breaks which favour investors have pushed Australian home prices to record – and unaffordable – levels, according to bodies representing families on low to moderate incomes.
These include the Australian Council of Social Security.
Its chief executive officer, Dr Cassandra Goldie, says its time to “get serious” about reforming negative gearing and capital gains tax breaks, which unfairly favour the rich.
Speaking on behalf of A national alliance of community housing and welfare groups, which is urging swift and deep reforms, Dr Goldie said: “Australia is in the midst of a housing crisis…”
She said:“Tax settings that encourage speculative investment and inflate house prices – like negative gearing and the capital gains tax discount – must be addressed in a new national strategy to address housing affordability.”
“These unfair tax concessions cost the federal budget more than $7 billion every year,” Dr Goldie said.
Over half of these tax breaks go to investors in the top 10 per cent of income earners, she added.
The alliance is made up of Homelessness Australia , National Shelter, the Community Housing Industry Association and the Australian Council of Social Service .
It is asking all Australians to sign a petition calling for tax reforms that put ordinary people ahead of the interests of investors.
Dr Goldie said: “People who negatively gear claim an average loss of $8,722 per year.
“This means funding for essential services such as education, health and dedicated housing for low income families are reduced.
“Spending savings should be redirected to improve affordability, including a tax rebate for new affordable housing, and significantly increased investment in public and community housing,” she added.
She said governments must do all that they can to ensure everyone pays their fair share of tax to enable us to fund our services properly into the future and to help end the housing crisis that is pushing people into financial hardship.
“By signing the Vote Home petition, Australians can call on party leaders to change unfair tax concessions and unlock affordable housing for all ,” Dr Goldie added.
However her campaign has little immediate chance of success.
The government argues that negative gearing is necessary to produce the supply of homes that Australia needs and the opposition is prepared to accept only limited changes to it.
by Alan Thornhill
Malcolm Turnbull might well find it hard to sell the budget strategy his government will introduce into parliament on Tuesday.
Not that there is anything particularly striking about it.
Indeed early indications that the Treasurer, Scott Morrison, gave in a television interview on Sunday, suggest that his first budget is likely to be a timid document.
The most attractive thing the Turnbull government is offering is an extra $1.2 billion for Australia’s schools, if they agree to meet new minimum standards of literacy and numeracy.
The Labor government, of Julia Gillard, tried that.
It didn’t work, then, and is difficult to believe that it will work in future.
That’s largely because our politicians, not our educators would, once again, be setting those standards.
Labor learnt from its mistake and has advanced some thoughtful ideas, under its Gonski proposals.
The Prime Minister has also ceded some ground to Labor, with his less that adroit handling of the election, itself.
He might well have allowed the current session of Federal parliament to run its full term.
That would have meant a full parliamentary election about September, or perhaps even a little later.
But he was not satisfied with that.
So he threatened to call an early election, if the Senate would not agree to his plan to revive the Australian Building and Construction Commission.
The Senate called his bluff.
That has left Mr Turnbull facing an unusually long election campaign, with little to say.
Yes, there will be some tax cuts, for people earning more than $80,000 a year, some tightening of the superannuation tax rules, for what Mr Morrison calls people on “very high” incomes, and tobacco taxes will be increased.
But negative gearing and the GST will both be left alone.
And, yes, our new submarines will be built in Australia.
But this still looks more like nervous politicians’ strategy, drawn up to win the next election, than the bold reforming approach, the country may actually need.
And John Howard’s former chief of staff, Peta Credlin, might well have a point.
She was quoted, in the Murdoch press, at the weekend, saying the Opposition Leader, Bill Shorten, is the man to watch now, as he has been busily working away at policies, while all this has been going on.
by Alan Thornhill
Malcolm Turnbull warned today that Labor’s “reckless” plans to reform negative gearing would “devalue” every home and property in Australia.
However Labor dismissed the Prime Minister’s warning, with the Shadow Treasurer, Chris Bowen,describing it as “a stunt” by the government
Mr Turnbull and his Treasurer, Scott Morrison, were speaking to reporters in the Sydney suburb of Penshurst, when he delivered his message.
He said the government would never adopt Labor’s policies.
“…they’ll devalue every home, every property, in Australia,” the Prime Minister said.
” They’ll result in increased rents because they will reduce the number of rental properties available,”he added.
” So it is an extraordinary trifecta of outcomes the Labor Party is proposing in their recklessness.
“They are going to drive down home values, drive up rents and discourage investment.”
” That’s why we won’t have a bar of it,” the Prime Minister warned.
However Mr Bowen said Mr Turnbull does not care at all about home affordability.
“Malcolm Turnbull is saying that he doesn’t have a plan for housing affordability,” Mr Bpwen said.
” He thinks it’s more important for an Australian buying their tenth or eleventh property to get a tax break than it is for first home buyers to get into the housing market.”
“… Tony Abbott knew how to run a scare campaign,”Mr Bowen said.
“but now we know that Malcolm Turnbull has no more than this for an election campaign.”
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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