Commission of Audit hits those who are most vulnerable

May 1, 2014

The government’s Commission of Audit report was finally released today. It’s over 500 pages long, but already it’s proving to be targeted at those who can least afford it.

These are just some of the recommendations:

PENSIONS

Aged pension eligibility to be raised to 70 years old.

Pension eligibility criteria to be tightened.

The family home to be counted as an asset in means testing.

Pension payments to be gradually reduced to 28% of average weekly earnings.

Carer’s Allowance to be means tested.

HEALTH

NDIS rollout to be ‘slowed’.

GP visits to cost $15 in ‘co-payment’.

Those who turn up at an Emergency Department whose situations are deemed ‘less urgent’ to be forced to make a co-payment.

Everyone to pay more for medicines, including those currently listed under the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme. This includes medicines that are currently free.

In a rare recommendation not aimed at the poorest and most in need in Australian society, high income earners would be required to take out private health insurance in order to access Medicare. The Commission also recommended a 2% increase in the Medicare Levy surcharge to encourage the shift to private health insurance.

NEWSTART

Payments to young job seekers to be cut after 12 months.

Job-seekers between 22 and 30 be forced to relocate to take a job after 12 months, or lose benefits.

EDUCATION

Gonski reformed to be scrapped.

States to have full control of schools.

Higher education to cost more.

Students to start paying back their FEE-HELP debt earlier.

FAMILIES

The Commission recommended the Paid Parental Leave Scheme salary cap be scaled back to $57,000 per year.

Family Tax Benefit B to be abolished.

A new FTB A ‘supplement’ to be available to sole parents with children under 8 years of age.

INFRASTRUCTURE, INDUSTRY AND PUBLIC SERVICES

More road tolls.

Industry assistance, including to the car industry, to be slashed.

Seven Commonwealth bodies to be scrapped, including the Climate Change Authority and Clean Energy Finance Corporation.

Over 60 other departments to be merged; for example, Border Protection with Customs.

The Snowy-Hydro scheme, the Australian Submarine Corporation, Defence Housing, Australian Rail Track Corporation, Australia Post, Medibank, the Royal Mint and the National Broadband Network to be sold off over time.

The Commission estimates this will mean that 15,000 fewer public servants will be needed, especially in Canberra.

New targets for funding the ABC and SBS, while the Australian Broadcasting Network would be abolished.

The minimum wage case to be abolished, with a new benchmark of 44% of average weekly earnings.

It takes no special knowledge whatsoever to see that this report is a nightmare. It targets the weakest, poorest, least able to adapt to extreme changes in their fiscal circumstances. Now, Treasurer Joe Hockey has been at pains to stress that this is a report, not the Budget, but he’s not ruling anything out, either. Some of these recommendations have already been signalled as ‘under consideration’.

Take an ‘average’ family – one parent works, making about the average weekly age. The other parent stays at home with the kids, who are 14 and 10 respectively. If the Commission’s recommendations are adopted, they’ve just lost Family Tax Benefit B. They’re probably paying higher fees to send their kids to government schools than they were even one year ago. If the kids get sick, they not only have to find the money to see the doctor, but also the money to pay for whatever gets prescribed.

How about someone approaching 65, and thinking about retirement? Their superannuation funds aren’t great, because they’ve never had a high earning job. They won’t be able to even try for the pension for five more years, and even then there’s no guarantee. You see, they own their home, which they’ve paid off over decades. Thanks to gentrification in the area, it’s probably worth a fair bit now – almost certainly enough to exclude them from the pension.

Or someone leaving high school, wanting to go to university? Well, they’d have to pay more for their degrees, but hey, there’s always FEE-HELP, right? Except that debt will be higher, and they’ll have to start paying it back much sooner. They could always go on the job market and try to save money, but if they have trouble getting a job, they might well find themselves forced to move anywhere the government deems fit, or else be back where they started with no means of support.

Even a single, able-bodied, employed person doesn’t get off scott-free. They’ll be mostly okay – as long as they don’t get sick, require regular (or even semi-regular) GP visits and medicines, lose their job, drive to work, sign up for the NBN … you get the picture.

Amazingly, the government would like us to believe that this is all necessary. It’s all the previous administration’s fault, of course. The message is clear and consistent: the Coalition don’t want to do this, but they must. Why? Because, in Hockey’s words, ‘What this report proves is that we have inherited a mess’.

Really, Mr Hockey? Are pensioners out in the streets desperately trying to make their terrible circumstances known, as they are in Greece? Is our inflation rate at almost 60%, as it is in Venezuela? Is our debt as a percentage of GDP at 230%, as it is in Japan?

The short answer is NO. They’re not.

Our inflation rate is 2.9%.

Our debt as a percentage of GDP is 28$.

Yes, we have a deficit. Yes, if a completely unforeseen disaster happened right now, we would need to borrow more money to combat that. But that deficit came about as a result of spending designed to cushion us from the impact of the Global Financial Crisis. It was strategy – and it worked.

The government would have us believe this was ‘wasteful’. They prattle about pink batts and school halls, and just about turn themselves inside out trying to obscure the real effect of the Rudd and Gillard governments’ spending initiatives.

And yet the Coalition decided to increase the deficit by $8 billion ‘just in case’.

And yet the Coalition decided to spend $24 billion on buying Joint Strike Fighters in a highly questionable business deal.

The same people who even now wring their hands and all but confirm that their sights are squarely trained on the most vulnerable of us.

Hockey says the Commission’s recommendations are ‘courageous’.

No, Mr Hockey. What would be courageous would be your government refusing to kick people when they’re already down.

But what are the chances of that?

Guess it’s over to you, Labor, Greens, PUP. Anybody? Anybody?

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Guest Post: Money talks, but it also silences

May 30, 2012

Today’s guest post is brought to you by Loki Carbis, who blogs at The Centre Cannot Hold. You can find him on Twitter as @Doc_Loki.

* * * * *

The saying goes that “money talks and bullshit walks”. Maybe that was true once upon a time, back when dinosaurs roamed the Earth and people still thought Vietnam was a just war. It certainly isn’t true anymore. Oh, money still talks – but quietly, behind closed doors. Bullshit, on the other hand, is the world’s new native tongue.

Take this example, ripped from the headlines this very morning. A blind woman seeking an improvement in the quality of service from Metro Trains – an improvement, I might add, that would consist entirely of them actually living up to their legal obligations not to discriminate against the sight-impaired (an obligation that every organisation must fulfil – it’s not like Metro are being singled out here) can apparently only do so if she will sign a non-disclosure agreement.

This is how Metro Trains treats the sight-impaired: it seeks to make them mute as well.

Money does not just talk, you understand. It also silences.

The claimed reason for this non-disclosure agreement, by the way, is a little thing called “commercial confidentiality”. If you live in the state of Victoria, there’s a good chance you never heard these words before Jeff Kennett became Premier. But their use – indeed, their ubiquity – has risen hand in hand with the rise of privatisation in
this state. Commercial confidentiality is the idea that businesses need to be legally able to protect certain information from getting out in order to remain competitive. And based on the last three decades, it seems that corporations created by privatising government agencies need this protection even more than other corporations.

A brief refresher here: privatisation is the idea that business can run essential services more efficiently than government. It’s an American idea, an aspect of the Free Market economics dogma that arose from the Chicago School of Economics and conquered the world more thoroughly than any invader since Genghis Khan. In a Free Market, we are told – which is one that is free of government interference in economic activity – corporations will always out-perform governments.

There are a number of problems with this idea. The most obvious is that to any corporation, ‘efficiency’ means ‘profitability’ – which is an odd concept to apply to traditionally loss-making public services such as education or medicine. Or public transport.

The case mentioned above shows another great reason why privatisation is doomed to failure: because corporations do not want an end to government interference in the market. They just want an end to interference that doesn’t benefit them.

Returning to commercial confidentiality, the very idea of being able to protect information in this way contradicts the most basic assumptions that the Free Market theory that promotes the idea of privatisation is based upon. If the flow of information is restricted, the market is no longer free. But you won’t hear any corporation complaining about this lack of freedom, because corporations don’t care about the freedom of the market, just of themselves. Commercial confidentiality frees them in a number of ways, but most obviously, it goes a way towards freeing them of potential competitors.

And that’s just using commercial confidentiality as it was intended to be used. The potential for abuse is high, and corporations don’t hesitate for a second to use this legislation to silence their critics – even in a case like the one linked to above, where it’s hard to see how any confidential information could be involved, given that the case concerns publically made announcements. To give another example, commercial confidentiality has also been used to cover up human rights abuses in privatised prisons, both in Australia and overseas – apparently, the profitability of corporations outweighs the human rights of prisoners. Even those in remand centres, who are still
awaiting trial and are legally presumed innocent.

The most common usage of commercial confidentiality, however, is the one seen in this case: using it to cover up management incompetence and to evade accountability.

Aren’t you glad you live in the age of the Free Market?


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