The Treasurer handed down a debut mid-year budget review yesterday that has been both criticised for not taking greater control of deficits and debt, and at the same time for the saving measures undertaken to pay for new spending since May.
Government revenue suffered a further hit from tumbling commodity prices, creating bigger deficits, more debt and a another delay in returning to a surplus.
Morrison hit the airways today to defend his approach to the budget, saying the suggestion that he should be chasing commodities prices down a hole with even more significant savings measures or higher taxes would put jobs and growth at risk.
At the same time he is being attacked for placing the greater burden of over $10 billion of savings on the health system.
“I’ve got a simple message to all those who take issue with the savings measures. Show us your alternatives,” Morrison told ABC radio.
Among his savings are plans to remove bulk-billing incentives for pathology services, reduce the bulk-billing incentive for Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) services and align bulk-billing incentives for diagnostic imaging with GP services.
It has been described by health groups as a Medicare co-payment by stealth.
“To immediately … politicise it in those terms is not a helpful way to have a mature debate about the issue,” Morrison said.
The Royal College of Pathologists Australasia warns the changes could force patients to forgo tests which could delay early diagnosis of cancer and result in premature deaths.
Opposition Leader Bill Shorten said the government is wrong.
“Labor will oppose the idea that Malcolm Turnbull’s Liberals have that the only way that Australia can get ahead is by attacking Medicare,” Shorten told reporters in Sydney.
Shadow Treasurer Chris Bowen agreed some of these measures are particularly harsh.
“We’re back in 2014 budget territory under Malcolm Turnbull and Scott Morrison,” he told ABC radio in reference to former treasurer Joe Hockey’s first budget which received widespread condemnation.
Shadow assistant treasurer Andrew Leigh said the government was spectacularly failing its own “hallmark economic management test” that it set from opposition.
Asked on ABC radio if Labor could do a better job at returning the budget to surplus, Leigh said: “You couldn’t do worse”.
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