by Alan Thornhill
Trend employment growth in Australia has eased.
The Bureau of Statistics reported today that this indicator, which the Bureau regards as the most reliable it produces, fell to just 2.2 percent in March.
That was down from 2.6 per cent in December last year.
On its more commonly used seasonally adjusted measure, the Bureau reported that the number of Australians with jobs rose by 26,100 in March.
That left the nation’s seasonally adjusted labour force participation rate for March at 64.9 per cent.
The Bureau said too that – on the same basis – the number of people unemployed fell by 7,300 during the month
This left Australia with a seasonally adjusted unemployment rate of 5.7 per cent for the month, 0.1 percentage points below the February level.
by Alan Thornhill
Australians aged 45 years and over are intending to work longer than ever before, according to figures released by the Australian Bureau of Statistics today.
The Bureau said this was shown in the the results of a survey conducted in 2014-15.
It said these showed that 71 per cent of Australians intended to retire at the age of 65 years or over, up from 66 per cent in last survey result of 2012-13 and 48 per cent in 2004-05.
by Alan Thornhill
Australia’s superannuation system has long been a favourite place for the rich to hide – and increase – their wealth.
But the Federal government is now planning to put a stop to that abuse of the tax breaks the system allows for contributions to super.
It is aiming to do that by re-stating the original objectives of superannuation, this time in law.
Those aims, of course, are to ensure that as many Australians as possible have enough money to live decently in retirement, independently of the age pension.
The government is winning wide support, in its pursuit of this objective.
Both the welfare sector – and the superannuation industry itself – have issued statements today, supporting the government in its declared intention.
This occurred after a major review confirmed that the rich have been getting most of the tax breaks, going to super.
“As the Government’s Financial System Review pointed out, half the tax breaks for super contributions go to the top 20 per cent of taxpayers,” Dr
Cassandra Goldlie, the Chief Executive Officer of the Australian Council of Social Service said.
“There is a yawning gap between what the super system should do and what it actually does.”
“The system should ensure that every worker has an adequate income in retirement above pension levels,” Dr Goldie added.
“In reality it has become a wealth accumulation and tax avoidance vehicle for people with high incomes.”
But she added a qualification.
“Reaching agreement on the purpose of superannuation is an important step in the reform process, but it should not delay the comprehensive tax reform we have been promised,” Dr Goldie said.
“ It’s time to stop the endless tinkering with super and put things right.”
The Association of Superannuation Funds of Australia (ASFA) agreed.
Its CEO, Pauline Vamos, said:”The government’s commitment to defining the objectives of superannuation and enshrining this in legislation will provide an enduring reference point to guide future decision making by all policy makers,” she added.
“Agreeing and adhering to objectives will increase confidence, lead to greater levels of equity, and improve retirement outcomes for all Australians by reducing the politics in policy making.
“The purpose of the system as outlined by the government in today’s discussion paper—to provide income in retirement to substitute or supplement the Age Pension—is a worthy objective, and the good news is that the system is already well on its way to meeting this purpose as well as many of the supporting principles,” Ms Vamos said.
“ The current tax concessions supporting the system are sustainable, and superannuation takes substantial pressure off the Age Pension,” she added.
“ ASFA estimates that government expenditure on the Age Pension will remain under 3 per cent of the gross domestic product for the foreseeable future.”
“ASFA also believes that the superannuation system has an extended purpose.”
Ms Vamos said that was to enable all Australians to be financially confident in retirement, with the measure of success being that the majority of retirees are not reliant on any pension, and that their superannuation balance provides them with enough to have a comfortable standard of living,”
by Alan Thornhill
Malcolm Turnbull told Parliament today that the government wants Australians to be paid their entitlements as fast and efficiently as possible.
The Prime Minister was replying at question time to the Opposition Leader Bill Shorten who had asked about a report in today’s West Australian that which said the government is planning to privatise both Medicare and the PBS.
Mr Turnbull said the government is always looking for ways of bringing the delivery of its services into the 21st Century.
Australians now commonly use their smart phones to transact their business.
Yet Medicare procedures are still firmly paper based.
So the government has been looking for ways to bring the large number of Medicare and Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme transactions conducted each day into the 21st Century.
Mr Turnbull also said the only way young Australians could look forward to secure well paid jobs, in the longer term, was if their employers also kept their operations up to date in this way.
”This is about making it simple for patients to transact business with Medicare,” Mr Turnbull said.
by Alan Thornhill
The Federal government’s plans for tax reform – including the GST – are likely to be released gradually over coming months.
The Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull made this clear in an interview with an Adelaide radio station early today.
He said the full extent of the reforms would “of course” be revealed on Budget night in May.
However Mr Turnbull added the government might make some announcements before then.
There have been persistent reports that the government is considering increasing the goods and services tax from its present rate of 10 to 15 per cent and broadening its Impact, possibly to include food.
The government has refused either to confirm or deny these reports.
That led the Opposition Leader, Bill Shorten, to criticise the government for what he calls its “lack of transparency” on the issue.
T ax reform is likely to be a major issue at the next Federal elections.
The present government’s term expires in September.
But the election to choose a replacement could be delayed until 2016.
Mr Turnbull warned Coalition MPs early this week that an early election could also be “a live issue” in certain circumstances.
That has left some, particularly those in marginal electorates, very nervous.
They point out that any increase in the GST would be unpopular and warn, too, that Mr Turnbull has left himself little time to convince voters that such a change is necessary, if he does decide to go down that path.
by Alan Thornhill
Centrelink’s service standards are continuing to fall, according to the Federal Opposition.
In a statement today the Shadow Minister for Human Services, Doug Cameron said “irrefutable evidence from the DHS (Department of Human Services.). Annual Report, Australian National Audit Office (ANAO) reports, Commonwealth Ombudman’s reports, Senate Estimates answers and citizens’ experiences,” confirms this.
Senator Cameron said: “The number of calls answered by Centrelink (initially by its Interactive Voice Response system) has dropped by 3 million in one year.
The percentage of calls answered dropped by 11.1 per cent.
Centrelink is now only answering 64.3 per cent of calls from customers, down from 75.43 per cent in 2013-14.
Yet the “Minister for Human Services Stuart Robert continues to deny that there are significant service problems at the Department of Human Service.).
“The number of calls answered by Centrelink (initially by its Interactive Voice Response system) has dropped by 3 million in one year.
“And even if they improve on calls answered, that doesn’t mean people’s problems are resolved.
DHS needs to develop, along with Centrelink users, better performance indicators that actually measure the effectiveness of the whole system, rather than just whether the call has been answered.
“We know that dealing with Centrelink and DHS is becoming more, not less, difficult day to day.
The dread of having to try to get them on the phone when you have a problem is palpable.
The DHS Annual Report shows complaints are up 18.8 per cent n last year, and customer satisfaction is down by 8 per cent.
“The evidence is very clear, DHS is not heading in the right direction when it comes to customer satisfaction or the number of calls,” Senator Cameron said.
“And forcing people online isn’t working either – 37 per cent of people using the Medicare mobile app have experienced problems using it. 40 per cent of calls to Centrelink arise because of difficulty using the apps or website,” he added.
“The Minister’s go-to response when faced with these issues is to say that the Government is spending billions on the welfare infrastructure payment transformation program. But they’re only spending $60m over the next four years, and it isn’t due to be completed until 2022.
“It’s very hard to see how wait times or service standards will improve over the next four years if that’s their only response.”
“This Government is incapable of delivering basic services to the Australian public. Despite the change of leadership in the Liberal Party, they continue to focus on each other instead of delivering timely and quality services to the Australian public.” Senator Cameron said.
So far, the government has not replied to his latest statement.
by Alan Thornhill
The Treasury Secretary, John Fraser, warned last night that government spending has reached very high levels.
It said it has been estimated that this spending will reach 25.9 per cent of economic output in 2015-16.
Mr Fraser said this assessment was made last December, at the time of the Federal government’s Mid-Year Economic and Fiscal Outlook publication (MYEFO).
Speaking in Sydney, he added:” There have only been four other periods since 1970 when this ratio has exceeded 25 per cent.
“Three of these are associated with economic recession and deficit blowouts – during the early 1980s and the 1990s, and of course just after the GFC.”
Mr Fraser said it’s important that Australia retains “its top credit rating.”
He said Australia about one of only 10 countries in the world to have a triple-A rating from all three major ratings agencies.
But he said that is not at risk.
In fact the agencies assessing the Federal government’s situation last December had been “quite impressed” with its progress towards a budgetary balance.”
But Mr Fraser said that, increasingly, “…we need to frame a Budget over the four years of the forward estimates.”
“ If anything, the forward estimates now seem to be a little more important.”
Mr Fraser said:“There have only been four other periods since 1970 when the government spending to output ratio has exceeded 25 per cent.
“Three of these are associated with economic recession and deficit blowouts – during the early 1980s and the 1990s, and of course just after the Global Financial Crisis.
Mr Fraser added that:“We are a rich country in so many ways and we can look forward to sustained economic growth if we have the right attitude and policies.”
Then he added:“A stronger long term fiscal position will go hand-in-hand with other policies to lift our growth and living standards.”
by Alan Thornhill
Community nurses, who knock gently on patients’ doors, across Australia, save taxpayers millions of dollars each year.
They do that by treating the sick in the comfort of their own homes, when they might otherwise, have to be in hospital.
The costs of providing a hospital bed now rival those that come with booking a luxurious room in one of the best hotels in town.
Our home nurses have been able to do this because community nursing, has traditionally been supported by adequate, reliable government subsidies.
That has now changed.
A budget conscious Federal government – driven by its perceived need to save money – has been lifting all rocks and rugs as it tries to cut costs.
Some $80 million has been trimmed from health and education spending alone.
So community nursing services have seen their once reliable subsidy money flow instead to big rivals.
Even though they say, those big organisations don’t understand their patients as well as their own small, locally based, ones.
They are not alone.
Other, often small community organisations, have been affected, too.
The NSW Spanish and Latin American Association was among them.
It has had two programs, which provided valuable services in the Fairfield area, defunded, in this cost cutting drive,
They had helped migrants with settlement expenses, in this poor suburb, and guided them towards healthy ageing.
These community based organisations, too, had proved their worth,by helping their clients who often had difficulties with English, keep their health, and stay out of expensive mental institutions.
So were these original subsidies wise spending, like the costs of car maintenance, or examples of conspicuous consumption, that might well be cut?.
That, essentially, is the question that the Senate Community Affairs committee has been studying.
The opposition has not been slow to suggest that the government chose to release the committee’s final report last Friday, just as the holiday season drew to a close, reflects the fact that it has something to hide in this matter.
They might well be right.
Yes, Virginia, our politicians do behave like that, at times.
The committee, itself, was blunt in its assessment of what it saw as government failures in this area.
The first of the 12 recommendations, in its final report was that the Department of Social Services must publish its recent analysis of “delivery gaps” to promote transparency and to encourage informed discussion “of a strategy that assures vulnerable people are properly supported right across Australia with no gaps.”
In Canberra, that is very tough talk, indeed.
So tough that Coalition Senators, on this committee, felt impelled to publish a dissenting report, defending the government’s record.
So this debate is far from over.
Until it is, we will keep hearing, harsh words, like those of Labor’s Senator Carol Brown, echoing around the edges of this debate.
Senator Brown, who is Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for Families and Payments, said arrangements for funding these valuable services, had now become “utterly shamboilic,” resulting in the “needless” closure of “hundreds of services.”
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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