Really, The Age needs to be more careful about the quality of its journalism. I wish journalists could learn just report the story, without the need to put their own bias and spin on it.
Today’s second main front page story was about the defeat of the Rudd Government’s bill in the Senate which was designed to alter the previous government’s arrangements whereby singles earning over $50k and couples earning over $75k per annum would be required to pay an extra 1% income tax to the Medicare Levy IF they did not have private health insurance. [For foreigners, our Medicare system is a sort of public health insurance system – costs a lot for the Government and is usually 2% of our income tax, but looks after those who can’t afford private health cover.] On top of this, the previous government put a system in place whereby the government subsidises 1/3 of all private health cover costs via a income tax rebate to private health cover holders.
The bill proposed by the Labor Government aimed at upping the threshold for the extra 1% to $75k for singles and double that for couples.
The effect of this would have been
1) fewer households in upper income levels taking out private health insurance
2) Less people in the private health insurance market
3) a corresponding great saving to the Government because of reduced rebate costs
4) and a corresponding hike in the price of private health insurance for those who remianed in the market (including lower income households)
So it is little wonder that Senator Steve Fielding of the Family First Party (pictured, courtesy of news.com.au) voted against the bill – as did the entire opposition. Since the other independants supported the government bill, he held the balance of power, and thus effectively it was his vote that defeated the bill. For the record, I voted for Steve. I like him. I had lunch with him after he was elected and had the chance to grill him on a few issues. He’s principled and sticks to his guns. He looks closely at all legislation and votes for those whom he said he would represent: ordinary Australian families.
And here is where the report in The Age today by Leo Shanahan comes in with a story that was headed in the print edition “Senator sinks Medicare bill” (but altered on the online version to read rather more sedately as “Medicare Defeat Wounds PM”. My emphasis in bold and my comments in bold italics:
THE health insurance options of up to a million Australians are in limbo after the defeat of one of the Government’s central budget measures. In the biggest policy setback for the Government since its election, the budget changes to the Medicare levy surcharge threshold, worth almost $1 billion, were defeated by a single vote from Victorian Family First senator Steve Fielding. [Well, no they were defeated by the majority of the house – the fact that one vote could have made it go either way does not mean that Senator Fielding single handedly defeated it.]
Despite desperate last-minute changes to the proposed legislation by Health Minister Nicola Roxon on Tuesday, altering the new threshold for singles from $100,000 to $75,000, the bill now faces an uncertain future and will have to undergo radical changes if it is to avoid being dumped.
Its defeat in the Senate provides the Government with a possible trigger for a double-dissolution election. [That would be interesting, but I doubt it will come to that.]
…The Government says the average family [The “average family”? On $150k a year? Hardly. I regard our family as “average” on half that. If I had $150k a year, I would certainly feel myself to be “above average”]could save $1500 a year from the change and expected almost half a million Australians to drop their private health insurance [The “saving” would only come if they dumped their health insurance – and the poorer end of the market would have to pick up the tab.].
The Treasury estimates it will save almost $1 billion in no longer having to pay the private health insurance rebate, with the Government set to gain net revenue of $350 million. [You see where the real impetus for this bill comes from]
Further debate on the bill was supported by fellow balance-of-power holders the Greens and independent Nick Xenophon but Senator Fielding chose to kill it [MURDERER! (we “kill bills” and “terminate pregnancies”)]at his first opportunity.
Last night Senator Fielding defended his move, saying the Government had done nothing for lower-income earners who could be affected by higher health insurance premiums. [Precisely]
Senator Fielding – who is lobbying for changes to the bill that would see lower-income earners compensated for rising premiums through a higher private health insurance rebate – said the Government ignored his desires by bringing on the vote for the bill too quickly. Altering the bill further is likely to be complicated, with the Government unlikely to agree to the changes proposed by Senator Fielding.
…”At a time when many families are struggling with their household budgets, the Liberals are denying them tax cuts,” she said. [The bill would have been a tax cut to the wealthy – not to the strugglers] “I am disappointed that Senator Fielding has refused to even debate our very sensible proposal.”
In another article – from AAP – also on The Age website, Senator Fielding gets his say:
Senator Fielding said the government had failed to agree to relief for low income earners who have private health cover, possibly in the form of higher rebates. [precisely the point: it is these families who need the help, not the singles and childless couples earning $75k per annum]
…He said several struggling low income earners and pensioners, some of whom have suffered strokes and rare illnesses, had contacted his office worried they could not afford a hike in private health cover premiums. [Again, this would have been precisely the effect of the Government bill.]
“They have had to give up a lot just to be able to afford it. These are people who I would have thought the Rudd government were interested in helping,” Senator Fielding told AAP. “You have got to realise that for every one Australian that gets a tax break under this change, three to four other Australians get an increase in their health premiums.”
They’re trying to paint Steve as a madman, a religious fundamentalist (which he possibly is) and an anti-democratic “Bill Killer”. But Family First will get my vote again at the next election.