In the wake of delivering the Mid-Year Economic and Fiscal Outlook (MYEFO) statement, Treasurer Scott Morrison took the unusual step of channelling Cliff Richards singing “Summer Holiday”.
Defending cuts to people’s services and a blow-out in the Budget deficit to $41 billion, Morrison casually likened Government economic policy to taking the kids on a relaxing holiday:
“It’s like going off on that summer holiday: you get in the car; you know where you’re going; you don’t put the passengers at risk; you get to your destination safely. Of course there will be people chiming in from the back seat like my kids always do, saying, ‘Are we there yet? Are we there yet?’ Well, we are going to get there and we’re going to get there with everybody on board.”
So, at some point in time far, far away, the Government will return the Budget to surplus. In the meantime, sit back and enjoy the ride!
A holiday for the rich, but not for the people
But how can Australians on modest incomes, or the many who are actually poor, enjoy the next four years in which $704 million will be taken back from alleged welfare cheats; $595 cut from health workforce programs; $472 million from aged care; and $441 million from child care?
And then there’s the $639 million cut in subsidies for pathology and diagnostic imaging.
The subsidies were introduced by Labor as an incentive to increase the number of patients bulk-billed for blood tests, radiation therapy, MRI scans and the like – all costly, but essential measures for ensuring the health of the community.
These services are currently provided by private companies. Two of the largest, who dominate the field, are Sonic Healthcare and Primary Health Care. There are probably another ten or so companies operating in this area.
The federal government, probably with some justification, has argued that the subsidies had not really increased the rate of bulk-billing and hinted that pathology companies had instead diverted the subsidies to offset other costs and to boost profit margins. Primary Health Care chief executive Peter Gregg seemed not to bother denying that this may have occurred, saying “The government has a responsibility to run the country, we have a responsibility to look after our shareholders…”
If this diversion of funds has happened then it requires police investigation as a matter of fraud. Certainly if similar accusations had been made against a union there would have been media-centered police raids, seizure of records, and home arrests of chief executives.
But we are dealing with class justice here, so there has been none of that.
The web of shareholder influence
Indeed, there is a lot at stake for a government that upsets the pathology duopoly. The major shareholders for both companies are the same: JP Morgan Nominees, HSBC Custody Nominees, National Nominees, and Citicorp Nominees. Just coincidentally, the same nominee companies (holding and managing the share portfolios of private investors) are the four biggest shareholders in the privatised Medibank (though which the rebates are paid to the pathology companies), and in the Big Four Australian banks.
Incestuous? No – monopoly capitalism!
So what is likely to happen while we are taken for a ride by Treasurer Morrison?
Harm and death for the people
According to the Royal College of Pathologists of Australia (RCPA), the cuts are “likely to have a detrimental effect on healthcare delivery in Australia and harm patients”.
RCPA President Dr Michael Harrison added that discouraging people from having blood tests and scans could lead to “delaying the effective early diagnosis of cancer leading to premature deaths; compromising the effective treatment of diabetes and chronic diseases; and threatening the services of rural pathology”.
So here we have a government policy that is likely to harm patients and could lead to premature deaths. Isn’t “harm” and “death” the threat that comes from Muslim terrorists? Is this the level on which the government wants to operate?
We must put nationalisation on the agenda!
The argument between the pathology providers and the government over the reduction in bulk-billing incentives is simply an argument between crooks and thieves.
At every intersection along the road to summer camp there is a sign off to the left pointing to a different route. It says “Tax the rich to provide services to the rest”. Treasurer Morrison, however, is congenitally incapable of turning the car to the left.
As a companion article on this website points out, major corporations both local and multinational, are simply not paying any tax, whilst others are paying well below the official company tax rate (see “The rich and the rest: the ‘taxation transparency’ data”).
There is no excuse for a couple of private pathology corporations to fraudulently receive taxpayers’ money to “look after” massive corporate shareholding companies instead of looking after the patients who should be their prime responsibility.
They should not be allowed to pass on reductions in these subsidies in the form of patient co-payments and closure of pathology offices in country locations.
The privatisation of Medibank has simply allowed the same massive corporate shareholding companies to bludge off the people and bleed profits from an essential service.
Pathology services and Medibank should be nationalised.
Only a socialised health care service can meet the social objectives of health care delivery.
Nationalise pathology services!