Brendan Nelson, saviour of binge drinkers and health funds.

Brendan Nelson last night gave the ninety percent of Australians who say that he is not their preferred PM reason to believe that they have excellent judgement. Nelson’s Budget reply has shown a level of stupidity that even he had previously not achieved.
The Coalition’s decision to block revenue measures in the Budget is monumentally stupid, especially when one of the biggest of those is the tax change on pre-mixed alcoholic drinks, which brings the excise on them in to line with that on normal spirits. Every health group in Australia has come out in support of this change because they believe it will help curb binge drinking, and even putting the health benefits aside it’s good policy simply because it removes one more inconsistency from the tax code.

But perhaps Dr Nelson’s support for binge drinking is explained by his love of private health insurance? The Rudd Government’s decision to change the amount you can earn before being charged the Medicare surcharge, which is nothing more than a punitive tax designed to force you to pay for private health insurance, is a good one. The Medicare surcharge hasn’t been adjusted since the high taxing Howard Government bought it in ten years ago, but wages have grown significantly since then making this a nasty little surprise for many people earning near the cut off at tax time. The health funds in Australia are a disgusting example of corporate welfare, the Howard government financially penalised you if you didn’t join a fund and then they used your tax dollars to give the funds a 30% kick into their bottom line, it’s one of the worst ideological excesses of the Howard years. In any other circumstances it’d be called extortion.

In a rare moment of sanity Nelson has hedged his bets on whether or not he’ll oppose the luxury car tax, it seems that even he realises that sticking up for poor battling BMW drivers is an exercise in political suicide. Which is not to say that he won’t block it, just that he doesn’t want to have to take the heat about doing so in the mean time.

The most amazing thing that Dr Nelson said in his budget reply though has to be
“We do not support higher taxes and higher spending,”. This, from a front bench member of the highest taxing, biggest spending Australian Government by any objective measure ever, is jaw dropping. The Howard government’s tax and spend philosophy made a mockery of traditional conservative values like small government and individual responsibility and replaced them with targeted bribery with the sole aim of staying in government. The Liberal party has no sense of shame, they obviously need another four or five terms in opposition to rediscover it.

The other big item in Nelson’s budget reply, that he wants petrol excise reduced by five cents a litre, may have been impressive a few years ago, but now that most people in Australia regularly pay $1.50 a litre for fuel it’s a token gesture that everyone knows will be clawed back by the refineries within a week. Stupid policy, economically irresponsible, please try harder.

This budget reply seems designed to starve the government of funds, thereby reducing the surplus and giving the opposition a chance to cry ‘bad economic managers’. The problem with this tactic is that, as even Peter Costello knows, the budget estimates have been wrong for at least the last five years, the mining boom means that revenue is going through the roof and blocking these key budget measures will simply provide big sticks for Rudd et al to use as they beat the Nightwatchman and his unimpressive B-Team.

Expect Malcolm Turnbull to make even less sense than Nelson over the next few weeks as he removes all doubt about his inability to be an effective parliamentarian. These clowns belong on the Speaker’s left, long may they remain there.

Update: In case you had any doubts at all that the petrol excise cut was a stupid idea, Senator Steve Fielding has confirmed it by coming out in support of the move.

21 thoughts on “Brendan Nelson, saviour of binge drinkers and health funds.

  1. I was starting to write a comment that addressed each of the issues raised by your blog but it is pointless; the budget reply was simply fucked, top to bottom. Hypocritical, stupid and dangerous. Hockey must have helped him write it. I can just imagine Costello and Turnbull weighing in with a sarcastic grin “Sure Brendan, great idea that. You should do it – guaranteed to help your leadership”.

  2. I love that he said he would be doing all these new things like 5 cents off the fuel excise, however then I pointed out that for the next 3 and a half years at least they will be doing fuck all.

    I’m not convinced by Labor’s plans around the Medicare Surcharge. If it goes to $100,000 then obviously I’ll opt out just like everyone else will. However what exactly is Labor going to do about the state of the health system to cater for all these people that wont be going private any more? The system is fucked up enough as it is – Labor probably need to pony up some of that surplus to improving the state of health.

    As for the alco-pops – does any one actually think a 10% increase in price is going to stop people from buying them? The drop in the tax rate will help pay for the increase!

  3. Good, let them block the budget in the Senate and then Rudd can call a double dissolution and wipe the remaining Liberals out for good. I think Nelson would be lucky to hold his own seat.

  4. First of all, good on you, Alex for daring to raise a conservative view on this somewhat biased blog. If I knew you better I might think that you were a card carrying member of the National Party. But I shouldn’t say too much; as long as you voted seriously you have a right to cast your opinions.

    I originally agreed with you that the Medicare means test will cause problems, and it probably will, but it is not the fault of the policy. Citizens like yourself should be rejoicing that you now have a choice between the systems whereas before you where forced into ridiculously expensive private health insurance which is of little benefit to us until we are having our quadruple bi-passes when we are 65. After all, why should we be expected to put money aside for a rainy day and look after ourselves?

    At least now you have the choice of selecting the public health care over private. Raising the means test should not change anything for you. If you think it is a bad idea, keep your private insurance. If you are unhappy about the service you get from the public sector, pay to use the private. You have been doing it for the last little while, just keep going.

    I agree that the system needs more money and that money needs to be better allocated. I love the fact that we live in a society where we do pay our taxes and get tangible returns such as running water, good roads and relatively few people without shelter. It is awfully optimistic, but perhaps those of us who can afford it, should choose private health care and private schooling so as to ease the burden on the public system. Why do we need our government to do it for us? And if we do expect our government to do it, then lets be prepared for them to hike up taxes. Can I assume that all of those who reckon changing the means test is a bad idea would not mind their taxes being raised the same amount as what they are paying in health insurance? If not, then I guess we shouldn’t complain about the standard of public health care.

  5. Come to think of it, those who are complaining about the increase to $150,000 because it will increase the costs of private health care are actually arguing that those earning less than $150k should subsidise the rich. Something wrong there.

  6. And because it is Friday and I’ve run out of steam, I’ll spend a few more moments’ blogging than actually doing real work, which is what Mondays are for.

    Dave, I think the key problem with Turnbull is that he sucks at the party spin. The guy must be smart to rise to the top as he did in the business world, but his problem now is that he is expected to speak even when he has nothing to say. He has to constantly argue for things that he does not believe when in the past he would have just said ‘That’s actually not a bad idea’. I think he will do much better as a leader than as a minister, be it shadow or otherwise. In private conversation, I reckon he would be saying to Rudd ‘Good job, but here’s how I would have improved it…’

    I still believe that Australia would be a better place with Rudd and Turnbull going toe to toe on what they believe is best for Australia than any other combination. This would of course require both parties to run a positive campaign which would never happen when one is facing certain defeat. In a perfect world, I would have Rudd, Turnbull and Beazley on the same side (and Keating as their spokesperson).

  7. Lee, Turnbull is an opportunist. He’s a very intelligent opportunist admittedly, but that’s not enough to make you a good leader. I think that Turnbull is a kind of Howard Lite, he wants to be running the show but I don’t think he has a clear vision of what he wants to achieve when he gets there. The main reason that he’s in the Liberal Party is that the ALP refused to parachute him into a safe seat, if he’s that flexible in his personal politics he doesn’t have the mettle to turn around a political party.

  8. I see your point Lee, however the part where I object is that I already pay for health care before opting for Private Health Cover. I pay 1.5% of my Taxable Income for health coverage in the form of the Medicare Levy – is it not fair that I expect competent health care for my money? Why should we have to elect to pay extra just to assure that we get decent health care?

    Either way, what will happen is that people will simply opt out if Health Insurance and put more pressure on an already crippled health system. I’ll be one of them – it makes much more sense for me to save the money and put it aside for my future health.

    To be honest, I do not see why those who earn more should have to elect to use private health care and schooling to ease the pressure on the public systems. If you choose a public system, why shouldn’t you expect to get reasonable education or health care

    And for the record, I voted responsibly, am not conservative and have never had a National Party Membership Card. I object to your open slander!

  9. The point is Al, that there really is no such thing as ‘the private system’ in practice. In most areas public patients are displaced from public facilities by private patients using those same facilities. Private health insurance is all about jumping the queue, which is why people will still opt to have it.

    The reality is that the public system in Australia is excellent compared to any other non Scandinavian country in the world. It has shortcomings and needs work, but the current private health industry does nothing to help the system overall.

  10. I’ve always believed Turnbull joined the wrong party. He seemed destined to join the ALP after heading up the Republic convention and it genuinely surprised me when he became a Lib. I guess he saw it as a quicker road to the top given they were looking pretty entrenched when he joined.

    I wouldn’t say though that opportunists don’t make good leaders. Look at Bob Hawke.

  11. Megan and I contributed around $1,800 over the last year towards Private Health Insurance that neither of us used. Now that the surcharge limit is being increased we will opt out of Private Cover, put that cash in a seperate bank account and it will cover our expenses. Instead of getting 20% of our expenses back in the future, we’ll have the cash to pay all of it and not be out of pocket at all. Plus we wont have to pay the Medicare Surcharge!

    How many people out there do you think will opt to take our path? I’m backing plenty.

    And whilst I agree that the health system compared to other countries is reasonable, it needs help and while we have such a large surplus hanging around why not use it to improve health and education?

    And finally, as you would know i have a few people around me that work for NSW Health. They would be happy to tell you how the health system is hardly “excellent”. In fact Mum will tell you it is barely competant.

  12. I only said it was excellent compared to non Scandinavian countries, and it is miles better than the NHS or anything in the USA.

    Many of the problems with the health system in Australia is the awful creeping ideology of managerialism. That has been entrenched over the last decade and needs to go. Management theories don’t work in health, education or welfare because they reduce everything to stats. Efficiency and quality are at opposite ends of the spectrum when it comes to health, you need to have excess capacity in the system so that you can cope with unexpected demands.

    Hopefully we will see an improvement in our health system over the next few years, the last decade certainly didn’t improve things.

  13. I think that is the good thing about Turnbull; his beliefs are non-party centric. As a leader he would have the ability to get rid of some of the entrenched party views. He looks terrible at the moment because he is trying to justify a position that he could not possible believe in. Are you saying that he is bad because he doesn’t want to play the old political game? It’s not about personal politics, so him jumping ship is not about being morally flexible, it’s about not caring who gets him there, as long as he does get there so he can make a difference. Whether he makes a difference is another issue, but the point here is, given a blank piece of paper, whom, besides Kevin Rudd, is likely to paint a better future for Australia? In my opinion he is on the better side of the republic debate, he would have Australia as a player on a climate change issues and he would have had a hard look at the tax system. His ideas on tax when he first came to parliament were embarrassing to the coalition because they weren’t that bad.

    Realistically, short of Costello coming back, Turnbull will be the next leader of the Coalition, so his plan is working so far. Where would he have got if he followed his beliefs and signed up as an independent? The guy is playing the game to get where he wants to be. If we left politics to those who were grass root members, we would only ever get political results.

  14. By the way; who chose these icons that appear next to the comments? What is Alex’s supposed to be?

  15. WordPress assigns them automatically for anyone who doesn’t have a wordpress account or a Gravatar. I’d recommend getting a gravatar as then you can choose your own icon.

    Al, there’s a great post by Possum Comitatus which addresses the impact of people dropping out of private health insurance, it’s not an unintended consequence, it’s part of reshaping the health system. It’s worth a read.

  16. Another example of a “political opportunist” is Peter Garrett, who only joined the ALP because he (finally) realised (like Gough Whitlam said) you have to be in power to make a real differece. We’re just waiting for Pete to carry out the 2nd part of that mission, umm … plastic bag, anyone?

  17. This pre-mixed drink issue is baffling. The cant from the harm minimisation crowd goes something like ‘look, we know you will use heroin so do it safely’. Yet when it comes to grog they get worked up into a lather and confuse the message. It would be nice to see a uniform approach to the use of drugs in society.

  18. Interesting thread and comments. Singling out the health care issue, I’ve just had some first hand excellent experience with it. The only private cover I’ve got is Ambulance cover, just to hedge my bets, so I’m a public patient and I’ve had to pay the Medicare surcharge the last couple of years. At first I was a bit resentful, but since private cover was about the same cost as the surcharge I didn’t really see the point. Being youngish and in reasonable health my hospital visits have always been through Accident and Emergency rather than any elective surgery so I couldn’t see any benefit to private cover.

    Most recently, I fractured my shoulder and hip, made my own way to hospital (I thought I’d just torn some muscles) was admitted through A&E and they operated on me as soon as they could. I’ve got 3 screws in my shoulder and a similar number in my leg along with a big plate thing (don’t know the technical terms). Apart from a private room and choice of Dr I’m not sure what benefits I’d have from private health insurance. Since I was interstate and didn’t know any of the Dr’s anyway it’s a bit of a moot point.

    A couple of days after surgery one morning I asked for a transfer to my local hospital. By lunchtime they told me they’d obtained a bed for me in my local and were booking a flight but weren’t sure what time it would be. That night they came and told me the flight was booked for lunch time the following day. I was transferred from a road ambulance to the air ambulance and was in my home town a few hours later, sparing me a 9 or 10 hour road trip in the car wrestling with a wheelchair at every stop. Seems pretty good to me.

    I don’t deny that there are problems with the public health service, but what do you expect when it’s been starved of funds and run like a business for the last however many years? It’s by no means perfect, the physio came to tell me I need physio 3 times a day but she’d be around once a day for example, but try what happened to me without insurance in any country other than this and see how you go. In the US you can have insurance and still be screwed if the hospital doesn’t accept that company.

    Here’s hoping that Rudd ploughs a shitload of money into health and education. Frankly I don’t care if there’s no budget surplus, it’s our damn money to begin with so a big surplus like the Libs were so fond of crowing about simply means that either we’re getting taxed too much or they’re shortchanging public services (or, as it turns out a combination of the two!)

  19. Lemmiwinks, we’ve been in a similar position to you in regards to private health insurance, although we’ve avoided the surcharge over the past few years while we’ve been on a single income.

    Our experience has led us to similar conclusions to you too. The public system has provided for the birth of our two children, a hernia operation for Buster Boy before he turned two, patching up Mrsdave after a fairly serious car accident and a vasectomy for me as the challenge presented by the Troll Princess became apparent. In none of these instances would private health insurance improved the service we received, however we would have been out of pocket for our premiums and the gap charged for the maternity stays and operations.

    Health is an area where the profit motive can only reduce the quality of care. Most of the former mutual societies providing health care have been bought out by corporate interests who will always put put profit first. This is not a way to improve the quality of the health system.

    BTW, Ambulance cover is a must, Mrsdave’s accident would have cost us around $8000 if we hadn’t had our $50 a year cover.

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