Voters revolt

The announcement of the increase in Age Pension age, the proposed ‘debt levy’ and co-payment to see a doctor, seem to have dented voter confidence in the Government.

A Galaxy poll undertaken on behalf of the Herald Sun (Victoria’s News Limited publication) has shown that 69 per cent of voters were opposed to the raising of the Age Pension eligibility age to 70. Of this 69 per cent, 54 per cent were Coalition voters and 84 per cent supported Labor. Treasurer Joe Hockey announced on Friday that raising the Age Pension eligibility age to 70 by 2035 would be legislation that the Coalition Government would endeavour to have passed.

In the same poll however, 54 per cent of Coalition voters supported the introduction of a co-payment of $6 to see the doctor, while only 15 per cent of Labor voters were inclined to do the same. It should be noted that while people were polled on the question of a $6 fee with no fee for concession card holders, the actual fee is likely to be between $6 and $15, with a reduced fee for concession card holders.

Managing director of Galaxy, David Briggs said no matter how the Government introduced the measures, the idea of austerity cuts didn’t appeal to many voters. “What we are seeing is that it really doesn’t matter how you slice and dice it, the Government really hasn’t sold the idea of the austerity measures.”

Even older voters, who would not be affected by the change in the Age Pension eligibility age, weren’t happy and, as observed by Mr Briggs, perhaps this is because the Age Pension age is seen as a rite of passage. “Maybe the general consensus is that you work all your life, and when you reach a certain age, you access the pension,” Mr Briggs said.

The poll also looked at overall voting intention and, if an election were held today, Tony Abbott would lose, with the Coalition Government’s two-party preferred vote down to 48 per cent to Labor’s 52 per cent, believed to be largely driven by the mooted introduction of a ‘debt tax’. Last year’s federal election saw the Abbott-led Coalition attract 53.5 per cent of the two-party preferred vote to Labor’s 46.5 per cent.


Opinion: Too much too soon

The poll results announced by Galaxy indicate that the Government has simply pushed too far, too soon the faith shown by voters in September.

While many voters would concur that the country’s income and expenditure needs to be better balanced, the wave of cuts and measures being bandied about is just too much to bear for the average Australian. I doubt that anyone minds paying more for essential services such as Medicare. And few people would question that those who are in the higher income brackets should pay more than others, but it’s unrealistic to ask people to take the hit twice, maybe even three times.

You simply can’t expect people to pay more for visits to the doctor, force them into expensive private health insurance and then slug them for a debt tax. It has to be one or the other. And let’s not forget that from 1 July most of the wage earning population will be paying an extra half per cent Medicare Levy to cover the roll-out of the National Disability Insurance Scheme which, if recommendations of the Commission of Audit are accepted, will be slowed down considerably. Will taxpayers see this levy reduced as a result? Highly unlikely.

Raising the Age Pension eligibility age to 70 by 2035 is also a knee-jerk reaction. While many would agree that funding and eligibility criteria for the Age Pension need an overhaul, making people work to 70, without the essential policies and programs to enable them to do so, is not the answer. Even the Commission of Audit, which was paid handsomely by the Government for its expert views, recommended that the eligibility age does not need to be lifted to 70 until 2053.

Also, it’s important to note that not only has the much-discussed co-payment to see a bulk-billing doctor been raised from $6 to $15 (or somewhere in between), but the language surrounding it has also changed. Now it’s being mooted as a co-payment to see a doctor, not a co-payment to see a bulk-billing doctor. Given that those not holding a concession card already pay up to $40 more than the Medicare rebate of $36.30, this extra charge, if not linked to bulk-billing, is simply too much.

But so many of the cuts, taxes, co-payments and rule changes discussed as possible budget measures are too much, and herein lies the rub. While everyone is concerned about what the budget will bring, Joe Hockey and Tony Abbott are not. They know exactly which measures the voters will have to bear and, therefore, much of what the Commission of Audit has recommended will simply be shelved for a later date. It is unlikely that this budget will be as painful as many expect, but that doesn’t mean we can rest easy.

Are you ready for budget pain, or do you expect little will change in Joe Hockey’s first federal budget? Do you think that the recommendations made by the Commission of Audit should form the basis of the federal budget? Are there any of the possible budget measures to which you are opposed? Or are there any you would like to see?

Written by Debbie McTaggart