Courageous or political suicide?
Courageous or political suicide?

Joe Hockey politely described some of the Commission of Audit’s more adventurous recommendations as “courageous”.

Political suicide might be more appropriate.

What is undoubtedly courageous is that the Treasurer - for the time being at least - is happy to leave the recommendations hanging in the breeze until Budget night like a row of smelly dead cats.

Think here the inclusion of the family home in the pension assets test and the aged care means test, the abandonment of a universal Medicare system and ripping $8000 away from families on $100,000.

Before it clarifies what it will and will not do, the Government stands accused of attacking the sick, the elderly, students, unemployed, pensioners and families.

That said, because the report is intentionally blind to politics, it is refreshingly audacious, even if many of the recommendations have little or no chance of implementation as presented.

The Government will agree with the report’s broad philosophy - that Government should only intervene when there is absolute need or market absence – and will adapt some of the proposals, after first making them electorally presentable.

File here the Commission’s push for co-payments on GP visits and pharmaceutical scripts, the tightening of welfare eligibility, lower indexation in pensions and higher repayment for uni students .

The Commission’s findings on federalism will need firm attention, given they run counter to the trend towards centralisation by giving States primary responsibility on schools, and greater responsibility for funding growth in hospitals.

This could be the ugly catch for Colin Barnett and other premiers agitating for GST reform – they might get more money back, and even some control over income tax for the first time since 1942, but only if they take greater financial responsibility in areas of high spending pressures.

But if this version of “competitive federalism” only ends up in entrenching jurisdictional differences in educational, health and indigenous outcomes, it wouldn’t be worth it.

The West Australian

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