I missed Simon Crean's reply to the budget on telly last night: Thursday is always trivia quiz night. Today I'm sorry that I did: according to AM on everyone to the left of Ken Parish's ABC, Crean gave a fine impassioned performance, undeterred by interjections from the Government benches. Peter Costello, perhaps miffed by the way he had been blindsided by Crean's use of his reply time to Labor's alternative policy on Medicare, was less impressed:
Labor hasn't learned a thing. Labor supports budget deficits and higher taxes. Now, this was an absolutely irresponsible budget speech, because this wasn't, in truth, a reply to the Budget. This was a speech to Labor Party faithful, and when Simon Crean speaks to the Labor Party faithful he tells them what the Labor Party stands for – budget deficits and higher taxes.
The Minister for Budget Surpluses at All Cost's response neatly encapsulates a couple of the basic truths of Australian politics, each an example of The Truth that is Established by Frequent Repetition: the ALP never learns and Labor stands for budget deficits and high taxes. Federal Health Minister, Senator Kay Patterson also resorted to the enunciation of repetition verified truths in her interview with Matt Brown:
MATT BROWN: Well he's [Crean] given us a fair amount of detail about how he's going to fund it, and there is some money there in the surplus, presumably. Let's just look at the effect of the package that he's outlined, and the reaction to it.
Ken Mackey, from the Rural Doctors' Association, you've just heard say that under the Labor plan more country practices would be encouraged to boost bulk-billing. In other words, more country people would get a better chance of going to a doctor and not having to open their wallets.
KAY PATTERSON: But it doesn't guarantee bulk-billing. It also gives rural people and people in outer-metropolitan areas, they're treated as second-class citizens.
MATT BROWN: Let's look at the lower target for country doctors, before they can quality for their tens of thousands of dollars in incentive payments. Isn't setting a lower target for that just making it easier for them to qualify, just making it more realistic for them to try and meet that bulk-billing target?
KAY PATTERSON: No, what it's saying is that you don't have to reach the same target in a rural area as you do in a city area, so it will be still harder for country people to find a bulk-billing doctor at the same rate.
Now that treats them ...
MATT BROWN: But what's the average rate of bulk-billing in country areas?
KAY PATTERSON: ... as second class citizens. [My emphasis]
Having scored two memorable soundbites, Paterson uses the rest of the interview to demonstrate her excellent ducking and weaving skills:
MATT BROWN: What's the average rate of bulk billing in country areas?
KAY PATTERSON: There are people in country areas, on low incomes, who don't ever have a bulk-billing doctor. Our package increases the likelihood that people on low incomes will be able to see a bulk-billing doctor.
Also, under the Crean package, if you have a doctor who charges a gap, you get a lower rebate, you have to pay the upfront fee, you have to either wait for the Medicare check or go into a Medicare office.
The other thing that he's done is he's said no to our new safety net, both for people on concession cards and for people who are not on concession cards. What he said is, if you're very sick, then we don't care about you, we don't care about the fact that you have unexpected bills that you may not be able to meet, we're going to scrap that safety net.
So there are a lot of losers in the Crean package.
Translation: I don't know what the average rate of bulk-billing in country areas is, but Simon Crean's proposal sucks.
MATT BROWN: You've spoken about people who can't easily find a bulk-billing doctor being disadvantaged by the different rebates that will be paid to doctors who do bulk-bill. But under the Labor plan wouldn't there be a pressure on that doctor who doesn't bulk-bill to keep their fees down because they know their patients might have a better chance of going somewhere else to see another doctor who is being encouraged to bulk-bill?
KAY PATTERSON: There is nothing in Mr Crean's package that will guarantee, and he said, and he's been saying for months, "I will guarantee the 80 per cent bulk-billing".
He cannot guarantee 80 per cent bulk-billing, and now what he's done is backtracked and said I have a target of 70 per cent for people in rural areas, a target of 75 per cent for people in outer metropolitan areas, and a target of 80 per cent.
Translation: I can't answer that point, but Simon Crean's proposal sucks.
MATT BROWN: What target have you set?
KAY PATTERSON: He will not achieve that. My goal is to ensure that people on very low incomes, people on health care cards and concession cards, have a greater chance of being treated the same, irrespective of where they live.
Crean's package does nothing to do that, in fact it makes rural people and outer metropolitan people second class citizens, and if the people can't find a bulk-billing doctor they get a lower rebate. That is the first time in the history of Medicare that we've seen a different rebate for people depending on whether a doctor bulk-bills or not. [my emphasis]
Translation: We haven't set a target, because we might not achieve it, but Simon Crean's proposal sucks. And incidentally don't forget that he's treating country people as second class citizens.
MATT BROWN: And just briefly, new figures are out today on bulk-billing rates. If they show a fall, what will that mean to you?
KAY PATTERSON: I've said that the bulk-billing rates, the overall bulk-billing rates, don't show the inequities, where you get very high bulk-billing in city areas, very low bulk-billing in country areas, and the people who suffer the most from that are people on low incomes, people on health care card and concession cardholders.
Translation: Don't bother me with questions about facts, you impertinent bastard. Simon Crean's proposal sucks.
MATT BROWN: Why not put up a target though? Why not put up a target, the way Simon Crean has, for what you want to see bulk-billing return to?
KAY PATTERSON: Because Mr Crean cannot guarantee that target. He said, "I will guarantee bulk-billing for 80 per cent". Now he's backtracked. He hasn't funded it. He needs to come out today and say whether he's going to keep the private health insurance rebate or not, because I suspect that's how he's going to fund it, and the nine million ...
Translation: We won't set a target, because we might not achieve it, but Simon Crean's proposal sucks.
MATT BROWN: He said he won't scrap it, if you're asking for no tampering with it.
KAY PATTERSON: He has shilly-shallied around about the private health insurance rebate. He needs to come out today. I challenge Mr Crean to come out today and say to the nine million Australians who have private health insurance, we will not touch the 30 per cent rebate. If he does, it will mean and $800 hike in tax for Australian families.
Translation: Simon Crean's proposal sucks and I refuse to believe him when he says that he isn't going to scrap the health insurance rebate.
MATT BROWN: Kay Patterson, thanks for joining us on AM this morning.
KAY PATTERSON: Thanks very much, Matt.
Translation: Thank Christ that's over.
The overall impression I got from both interviews was that Crean's speech has put the Government on the back foot. I might have more to say on the budget, once I've read Costello's Speech and Crean's response (Hansard in PDF. Crean's speech starts on page 88 of the file).