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Wednesday, 12 September 1984
Page: 1161

Mr CARLTON(8.00) —I have 10 minutes within which to speak about the expenditures of the two departments in which I have an interest-the Department of Social Security and the Department of Health. I transgress slightly by saying that we are scheduled not to be here on a Wednesday evening. The sitting hours appear to have been rescheduled because of some concern about an early election. Despite all the remarks of the Government about running this Parliament in a more satisfactory way, it seems that the way in which it is being run is even worse than it was when we did it, and I was one of the most strident critics of the way in which the Parliament was managed during the previous regime. I think the Parliament should be run in a more civilised manner. I have a very strong view about that. I think the present Government is going down even worse paths than did the previous Government, and I think it is time we did something about it.

The first matter about which I wish to speak is the Health estimates, particularly relating to the increases in expenditure as a result of Medicare. The Treasurer (Mr Keating) has come up with an extraordinary new discovery. He, unwilling to acknowledge that in this Budget Budget receipts as a percentage of gross domestic product are higher than they were in the last two Howard Budgets, has put forward an accounting concept previously unknown in national or international accounting. He says that because health expenditures were previously a private expenditure which were paid for, partly at least, by private insurance but are now included as a Budget item, they should not be included when calculating the percentage of GDP represented by government receipts. I must say that applying this novel approach, which says that when something is nationalised or taken into the public sector we no longer count it as part of the Government expenditures as a percentage of GDP, to the national accounts of, for example, the Soviet Union, one would have to exclude all items nationalised since the revolution of 1917 and reclassify them as private expenditures.

I think the Treasurer should promulgate his approach more widely. He will have to start with his own Budget. The Budget Papers curiously fail to acknowledge his contribution to accounting practice in the tables on pages 355 and 364 of Budget Paper No. 1. Beyond that he will need to recast all the international comparisons of receipts and expenditures prepared by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development and the various organs of the United Nations. Perhaps debt could be reclassified under a Keating system which would enable Third World countries simply to ignore the effects of any prior actions by their governments. However, until this new international accounting order, the NIAO, becomes universally recognised it will be necessary for the Opposition to continue to point out that the second Keating Budget pushes Budget receipts and outlays to their highest ever percentages of GDP.

The point I wish to make about Medicare is quite simply that expenditures on Medicare represent an increase of $2,021m over expenditures under the previous system. The Medicare levy of one per cent brings in $1,191m, leaving a shortfall of $830m. The explicit levy, the levy of one per cent that is trumpeted back and forth by the Minister for Health (Dr Blewett), therefore brings in only a proportion of the additional cost of Medicare under this Budget. An amount equal to 0.7 per cent of taxable personal income is being taken in addition to that one per cent levy to pay for the additional costs of Medicare. So the one per cent levy relates to no particular expenditure. It is a meaningless figure. It is there only to make Medicare look cheap. The Minister's promise to maintain the levy at one per cent is a meaningless promise. It merely means that any additional money required to pay for Medicare will come out of taxpayers' other pocket, the ordinary tax pocket.

Mr Blunt —It is not cheap, just nasty.

Mr CARLTON —It is not cheap, it is just nasty, as the honourable member for Richmond so correctly says. That point has to be made over and over again. Senators put this point to the Minister for Social Security, Senator Grimes, in the Senate Estimates committee hearings. Senator Grimes admitted that the Medicare leaflet was wrong where it said: 'Medicare will be paid for by a one per cent levy on your taxable income'. The Minister for Health keeps accusing me of inaccurate mathematics or making various claims which cannot be sustained. He has authorised the printing of a pamphlet which says: 'Medicare will be paid for by a one per cent levy on your taxable income'. That statement is absolutely wrong on any analysis at all. If we are talking about the whole health system, the one per cent levy bringing in just over $1 billion pays for no more than about one-eighth of total health care. On the narrowest definition of the additional cost of Medicare, it does not even pay for the $2,021m; it is $830m short. The statement 'Medicare will be paid for by a one per cent levy on your taxable income' is as false as the promise by the Prime Minister (Mr Hawke) in his policy speech in 1983 that nine out of 10 Australians would pay less in health costs under Medicare.

Mr Blunt —More false advertising.

Mr CARLTON —It is absolutely false advertising, as my honourable friend says. This Minister has to maintain this fiction day after day in the community. I hope he feels easy with it.

The other matter to which I wish to refer in the very short time remaining to me is the assets test. The honourable member for Phillip (Ms McHugh), who holds a very marginal seat in Sydney-it is one that has a tendency to swing with changes of government-became very emotional about this question of the assets test. Members of the Government have to understand that we will not let up on this question of the assets test. Once the family home was taken out of the assets test, against the recommendations of the Gruen Panel of Review of Proposed Income and Assets Test, the whole thing became an absolute sham. Let us talk about what this really does. Pensions in Australia cost $7,253m. Nobody begrudges that amount of money because the pensions are paid to people who are elderly and who need assistance.

The Prime Minister, in answer to questions the other day, said that unless the assets test was brought in the amount of money payable to pensioners would be far less than it ought to be. He said that unless this assets test was brought in there would be no equality and there would be an enormous increase in the cost of pensions. When we examine the Budget figures we find that this is an extraordinary claim. Once the assets test is operating it will bring in only an additional $45m in a total expenditure on pensions of $7,253m. Once it is actually working it will bring in $45m which, spread over all the pensioners, will give them an extra 57c each. That is what this measure will mean once it is actually operating.

Mr Blunt —It creates work for 1,500 inspectors.

Mr CARLTON —Before it operates, as my friend the honourable member for Richmond rightly points out, we will have to employ 1,500 public servants to administer it. The costs of bringing it in are $25m, which has already been spent, and another $30m in this Budget in net cost. That is a total cost of $55m.

Mr Milton —Rubbery figures.

Mr CARLTON —The honourable member for La Trobe says that the Treasurer's figures are rubbery. That is most interesting. With a seat such as La Trobe, one cannot afford to attack one's own Treasurer. But we have 'rubbery figures'. Maybe they are higher than $55m.

Mr Milton —I raise a point of order, Madam Chair. I did not refer to the Treasurer.

The CHAIRMAN —Order! That is a personal explanation. If the honourable member wishes to make a personal explanation, he should wait until the honourable member has finished.

Mr CARLTON —The honourable member will wait all right; so will I. With the $55m worth of expenditure saving $45m, why on earth is the Government doing it? It is no wonder that the honourable member for Phillip was upset about it. Her own Government is bringing in a dreadnought to attack pensioners for a lousy $45m saving in a total Budget cost of $7,253m-0.62 per cent; that is what this whole assets test is all about. It is an absolute nonsense, but it is also an outrage.