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Thursday, 27th November 2014

STATE YOUR CASE

Confusion reigns over the fate of the GP "co-payment". Following conflicting media reports this morning, based largely on conflicting messages from senior members of the Abbott government, Health Minister Peter Dutton gave a press conference that cleared up not very much. A fortnight after tying the co-payment to Australia's growth commitments to the G20, the government seems to have at least temporarily shelved plans to try to force the enabling legislation through the Senate, because the government can't convince 6 of the 8 cross-benchers of the co-payment's merits.

But Dutton also echoed Prime Minister Tony Abbott's earlier comments, that the government remains determined to inject a "price signal" into the primary health-care system and to make Medicare "sustainable". Abbott is frustrated at what he argues is relentless negativity from Labor, but neither he nor Dutton has demonstrated that Medicare is unsustainable or why it needs a price signal. A price signal in this context would deter, and just why the government wants to deter patients from primary care – GPs – and have them wind up in more expensive tertiary care – hospitals – remains a mystery.

Public policy consultant Terry Barnes, who originally recommended the co-payment to the government, has a piece in the Drum that also fails to make the basic case. He acknowledges the political difficulty of selling the co-payment "in the teeth of fierce opposition from the AMA and almost the entire healthcare establishment". Could that be because the evidence against deterring patients from primary care is overwhelming? The Conversation has run recent pieces putting the view of the "healthcare establishment" and arguing why price signals in primary health care don't work. And this morning in the Conversation, Michael Vagg describes the co-payment as simply "an economist's zombie that has to be hacked to bits" every so often.

*Yesterday's PoliticOz editorial suggested that the Immigration Minister currently has the power to revoke a person's citizenship on the commission of a serious offence. That wasn't correct. The earlier version also suggested that Sarah Hanson-Young's comments on citizenship amendments were wide of the mark. It appears that they're not. Thanks to those who pointed this out.

Russell Marks
Politicoz Editor

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Security

The third tranche of the Abbott government's "security" legislation passed the Senate yesterday, again with ALP support, giving extraordinary new powers to ASIO and the Australian Federal Police (Australian). It will now constitute a crime, punishable by up to 10 years' jail, for journalists to report on secret "special intelligence operations" (SIOs), even if the security agencies are behaving unlawfully or corruptly.

It almost goes without saying that the new law "is deeply flawed and potentially dangerous", though leading media lawyer Tom Blackburn makes that case in today's Daily Telegraph.

Defence

The Abbott government is considering the recommendation for a Royal Commission from the Defence Abuse Response Taskforce (DART), whose two landmark reports into defence force abuse were tabled in Parliament yesterday (Guardian).

More trivially, Tony Abbott rejected calls for Defence Minister David Johnston's sacking over his "canoe" comments (Fairfax), while Adelaide shipbuilders have vowed to campaign against the Liberal Party in upcoming South Australian by-elections (Australian).

Safe haven

As reports of violence against refugees continue to emanate from Nauru, legal experts say that Australia is legally and ethically obliged to protect refugees it has sent there – directly contradicting the view of Scott Morrison (New Matilda). Meanwhile, the Senate looks set to force Morrison to honour a deal he made with Clive Palmer to introduce a new "safe haven enterprise visa" that would see more refugees resettled in Australia on the stipulation that they work in regional areas (Guardian).

And Fairfax reports that Morrison and his assistant minister, Michaelia Cash, together spent almost $120,000 just on media monitoring in the year to September 2014.

Populism

Despite overwhelming evidence that tougher sentences work neither to deter nor to rehabilitate offenders (Fairfax), Victorian Premier Denis Napthine has made a last-ditch pitch for the populist vote before Saturday's state election by promising mandatory 4-year minimum sentences for perpetrators of domestic violence who hurt their victims in breach of family violence orders (Australian).

Budget

As the Parliamentary Budget Office predicts the federal budget will blow out by billions more than already expected, the OECD has warned Joe Hockey against imposing austerity (both Fairfax).