By Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra
CLIVE Palmer says he’s due to meet Treasurer Joe Hockey for dinner in Brisbane this week, but ahead of the talks the leader of the Palmer United Party is offering little joy to the Treasurer over his embattled budget.
Palmer reiterated on Sunday that PUP would not support the $7 Medicare co-payment under any circumstances, saying it was a matter of principle. “We don’t believe there should be a payment at all. Whether it’s 10 cents or $10 doesn’t matter – you can always increase it,” he told The Conversation.
Palmer also criticised Prime Minister Tony Abbott for his trip to the Netherlands and Britain, saying the economic situation meant he should be here.
Health minister Peter Dutton has had talks with the Australian Medical Association about changes to the co-payment plan but former treasurer Peter Costello told Ten the government should cut its losses. It was “not going to happen – let’s move on”.
Treasury on Friday posted on its website, in response to a freedom of information request from the West Australian, tables underpinning scenarios in the budget showing how much worse off various families would be under the plan.
A concession card holder, currently bulk billed, using 15 services a year, will be $70 out of pocket. The family of two children, presently bulk billed, one child with 12 visits a year and the other with four visits, can expect to pay $98 for their children. A concessional family, currently bulk billed, with each child using 11 services a year and each parent using three services would be $182 a year worse off.
The material posted includes an email in March pointing to a survey from several years ago showing Australia rates poorly compared to other countries in terms of the cost barriers people with chronic illness reported they faced.
The documents also revealed that several days out from the budget the Treasurer was inquiring about “average” use of services, so as to have some idea as to the “average” impact of budget changes.
Palmer also said the budget proposal to make people under 30 wait six months for unemployment benefits was “crazy”.
“Do you want an increase in youth suicide or an increase in youth crime rates? What’s behind it?” he said.
And he remains against the tertiary education package – “we believe in free universities” – although he said he wants to see the legislation.
PUP senator Jacqui Lambie told Fairfax Media fee deregulation “will not happen on PUP’s watch”. She said that if “the Nationals grew a set, they could also say no to the Liberals on key issues, like university deregulation, which, of course, will see campuses close in regional country areas and bush families greatly disadvantaged”.
Education minister Christopher Pyne again on Sunday flagged that he was willing to compromise with the Senate.
The rate of interest on student loans looks to be one obvious area where the government would be willing to adjust. Pyne told Sky that many people in the university sector believed the interest rate on student debt should remain the CPI. The budget proposes it be set at the ten year bond rate, “otherwise there is a hidden subsidy for students”.
He thought this was one of the things the Senate would look at “and when they do I will be open to the arguments that they put”.
Pyne said he lived by the John Howard maxim that 80% of something was better than 0% of nothing.
Hockey’s around-the-country tour to persuade crossbenchers has already had problems, even before he gets to Palmer who holds the crucial power. If his PUP senators oppose a measure, it cannot get the required numbers to pass the Senate.
With his reputation badly battered by the budget, Hockey needs to at least show he can have some success as a negotiator.
DLP senator John Madigan, who annoyed Hockey last week by having journalists and a family in the room as they were about to start their meeting, said the budget targeted those people who had the least.
Hockey repeated to Madigan the tale of personal woe he had put at a conference in Canberra during the week. “He said that he’s one of the most disliked, hated people in the country with the budget he’s got to bring down,” Madigan told the ABC.
Hockey last week complained about business’s weak advocacy for change and the media’s attacks on him. Costello on Sunday had a unsympathetic reality check for him. “That comes with the territory. Let me tell you it only gets worse as the years go by.”
With Palmer, Hockey perhaps needs to use the good offices of Malcolm Turnbull, who was brought in by Finance Minister Mathias Cormann to help head off disallowance of the government’s changes to Labor’s financial advice (FoFA) law.
Last week Turnbull was furious at being left out of the initial discussion about proposed new arrangements for retaining telecommunications metadata.
Palmer is sticking with his opposition to scrapping the schoolkids bonus and two other measures linked to the mining tax. He is resisting budget changes to the family tax benefits regime.
At the weekend Abbott left for the Netherlands where he will meet Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte, thank the hundreds of Australian police and military and consular personnel who have been involved in Operation Bring Them Home, and be briefed about the progress of identification of remains. He will then go to London for talks on counter-terrorism and on Iraq, returning early Thursday morning.
Palmer said Abbott would have been better off staying at home. “The country needs their leader at home because of the uncertainty in the economy. It needs his leadership.”
The government seemed “fractured” Palmer said. “A lot of things are happening not by design but by incompetence. It seems like chaos in the government at the moment.”
After the week of the metadata confusion and with the Senate budget maze ahead, a few people in the Coalition would agree with him.
Michelle Grattan does not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has no relevant affiliations.