2017 Budget health reforms welcomed, welfare changes draw criticism

The Medical Association is welcoming major health reforms, saying the government is winning back ground it lost after former Treasurer Joe Hockey’s 2014 Budget.

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But a major crackdown on welfare has drawn criticism from community groups who say it unfairly targets Australia’s most vulnerable.

Australia’s leading medical body has welcomed a move to unfreeze the Medicare rebate so it rises with inflation.

The cost of medicines should also come down, with funding for the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme guaranteed.

Michael Gannon is the president of the Australian Medical Association.

He says the Abbott Government’s 2014 Budget was a disaster for healthcare, but this one goes a long way to repairing the damage.

“This means that we will not see patients thinking twice before visiting doctors, and we will see tremendous value that comes from these modest investments the government is making. So many health problems can be fixed by GPs, other specialists, preventing hospital admissions. There are some smart investments in this increased spending.”

Ian Yates, head of the Council of the Ageing, acknowledged there are measures in the Budget that will alleviate some of the pressures on older Australians.

He says older people consistently report that out of pocket expenses in heath is their number one concern.

Mr Yates says COTA supports changes to the Medicare levy and the retention of bulk billing incentives for diagnostics and pathology.

He also backed the restoration of pensioner concession cards for some older Australians and the one-off $75 power rebate for seniors.

“Overall, older Australians will feel mildly positive, in some cases, quite positive about this Budget. Welcome ending the Medicare freeze and a number of other measures in the health system.”

Mr Yates also welcomed measures to increase housing supply, invest in community housing and provide certainty for funding for homelessness services.

However, he says the government has missed an opportunity to focus in on the challenge and opportunities of an ageing population.

Mr Yates says the investment in retraining and reskilling older people doesn’t go far enough to meet what he said was a growing challenge.

While the Australian Council of Social Services (ACOSS) has criticised Budget’s welfare measures.

Welfare recipients who fail to meet their job-seeking obligations will now risk major reductions in their fortnightly payments.

The three-strikes rule will see welfare recipients given demerit points for turning down jobs, missing interviews or failing to keep their appointments.

And the government will experiment with drug-testing welfare recipients, and putting them on welfare debit cards to restrict their access to cash if they fail.

ACOSS chief executive Cassandra Goldie says those on welfare should not be targeted for Budget savings.

“We’ve got a demerit system now for people who are really struggling, trying to meet their obligations on social security. We are deeply disappointed. The government has pursued this line that the problem with social security is that people are not doing the right thing. The overwhelming majority of people in Australia on social security – they are impoverished, they’re living on 38 dollars a day if you’re a single person.”

Treasurer Scott Morrison says a new tax on Australia’s five largest banks will bring in $6 billion over the next four years.

He’s urged the banks not to pass on the cost to consumers.

But Chris Richardson of Deloitte Access Economics says that is exactly what they’ll do.

“In theory this is paid by the banks, in practice there is a relatively large risk that it actually ends up being paid by everybody with a loan – true of families, true of businesses.”

The Budget has a strong focus on infrastructure, with $75 billion allocated over the next decade.

The big-ticket items are a second airport for Sydney, an upgrade to the Snowy Hydro Scheme and a major expansion of inland rail.

But Brendan Lyon, the head of Infrastructure Partnerships Australia, says those big projects have distracted the government from less glamorous, general infrastructure funding.

“Tonight’s Budget is a cut in real infrastructure funding, not a boost. It’s a cut of about 7.4 billion dollars compared to the decade-long trend. And it means that we’re going to see less infrastructure built over the next four years, not more.”