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Live from Canberra

12/05/2017
Budget week in Canberra is fun – if hectic.
 
Your scribe was at Parliament House on budget night to listen to the Treasurer's budget speech. This was followed by the NFAW Gender Lens conference call where the assembled experts gave their first impressions of the impact of the budget on women.
 
 
This is an initiative of the National Foundation for Australian Women and the document, now in its 5th year and will be made available at www.nfaw.org in time for the resumption of Parliament. It's a detailed dissection of the budget as it impacts on women. The writers are former senior public servants, academics and others – all expert in their area.  
 
Here is a snap shot of some interesting items; from your scribes perspective.
 
Clearly the budget is a mix of politics and policy. It’s preferable to have some policy initiatives that will make a difference - often they are in short supply.
 
How did the budget do?
 
The headline items were about infrastructure - important for economic growth but the danger is the port barrel and escalating costs as projects ‘morph’ over time. 
 
But for women, is this opportunity to shift more women into non-traditional occupations? The budget in reply speech talked about more apprentices on these projects. What about more female apprentices?
School education reforms were announced before budget night. This looks like a credible effort to bring fairness to the system and unwind some of the sweetheart deals negotiated by the dying Labor government; particularly with the ACT; who negotiated first when Labor was desperate to say they had the Gonski reforms in place.
 
Health initiatives did not get much airtime on budget night or after.  Perhaps the newish health minister is in the mild mannered category.
 
But for me the structural health initiatives he talked about on budget night are a long term strategic initiative that could deliver in spades over the long-term; provided they can get the administration right.
 
The initiatives comprise a set of agreement with the powerful health players - doctors, pharmacists and big pharma corporations.
 
What got the headlines was the Medicare rebate to doctors being unfrozen progressively. Given about 80 plus percent of GP visits are bulk billed it would seem cries of increased health costs are a bit overdone. 

The health reforms are about PBS pharmaceutical benefits payments to big pharma being kept under some control and the 'savings' directed to including very expensive modern drugs on the PBS. This should make a difference to sick Australians. And the cherry on the cake – GPs will put health data in to the national database - absolutely essential to drive better health by having better information about patient drug regimes. Probably the lowest hanging fruit in the health system is solving poor drug prescribing due to lack of information. Go Greg Hunt and the public servants at our department of health!
 
Administration
 
It’s all in the detail and there is more than one way to skin a cat!
 
So the debate about the capital gains tax discount rate has been side-stepped by the administrative measures of removing certain tax deductions for investment property owners. Tax deductibility for mixed purpose trips has always been contentious. The government has taken the view that investment property owners visiting their investment property while 'on holiday' is no longer a legitimate deduction. Claiming depreciation above the value of assets of an investment property has become an integrity (of the tax system) issue and subject to new rules. 
 
The Australian had some figures on the impact of these changes. They estimated savings of $1.4B (over the forward estimate) for the depreciation claims changes and $20M pa for travel expenses change.
 
 
 
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