Is the Medicare co-payment a tax?

Federal treasurer Hockey gets grilled on Q&A about the Medicare co-payment, health funding, education and election promises.
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01.Is it a tax? Is it a rabbit? Hockey's not sure


In an ABC Q&A appearance taped in Penrith, treasurer Joe Hockey admitted the $7 Medicare co-payment for doctor’s visits announced in last week’s Budget was in fact a new tax (or, bizarrely, a rabbit).

Under pressure from an at-times hostile audience, with several questioners taking issue with the Budget’s healthcare measures, and host Tony Jones cornering Hockey on the question of whether the co-payment was a tax, Hockey said: “It is a payment. It comes out of a pocket. It comes out of someone's pocket. A taxpayer's pocket. Whatever you want… Your call. You want to call it a tax, you can call it anything you want. You can call it a rabbit."

Audience-members grilled the treasurer about promises made in the 2013 election campaign, with one asking: “Prior to the election, the Prime Minister promised that a Coalition government would deliver ‘no cuts to education, no cuts to health, no cuts to pensions, no changes to the GST and no cuts to the ABC or SBS’. How can you then defend this budget you delivered last week which basically went against everything you promised to deliver when elected?”

Another posed the question: “I read in today's SMH that you deliberately withheld a table from this year’s budget called "Detailed Family Outcomes". Is this a deliberate attempt to hide that fact that high income earners are scarcely touched whilst low income earners could lose as much as 10% of their incomes. Do you really care for the low income earners or just your mates at the big end of town?”

Hockey urged the audience member not to believe everything she read in the Sydney Morning Herald, and argued the Budget contained plenty of tables. When pressed about the Detailed Family Outcomes tables, Hockey said: “There have been various tables. But we’ve got nothing to hide. If you have a different set of tables ma’am, please present them, we’d be happy to have a look at them.”

Coalition popularity takes a dive

The appearance came on a day when the Coalition and Tony Abbott’s approval ratings took a dive. According to Newspoll, 69% of voters believed they will be personally worse off under the Budget, and almost half said the Budget will be bad for Australia. The Coalition’s primary vote ratcheted down two points in the poll, coming in at 36%.

Meanwhile, a Nielsen poll affirmed the unpopularity, with the Coalition’s primary vote at 35%, with Labor on a 12 point lead in the two-party preferred vote.

GST on the table

While many federal government ministers are playing a hide and seek game with the GST elephant in the Budget room, backroom debate about a change to the GST seems to be happening.

Queensland senator Ian Macdonald seems to be just about the only federal minister commenting on changes to the tax, saying he believed the rate should not be increased, but the tax base should be broadened to include items currently exempt, such as fresh food and healthcare.



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