Rundle on the Right

John Crowe writes: Re. “Rundle: the Right is coming for your children” (yesterday). Jeezus! Do I enjoy reading Guy Rundle’s stuff or what? His article was a ball-tearer. Sorry, couldn’t help myself.

Subs v fighter jets

Bruce Howarth writes: Re. “Australia’s fighter squadron a load of hot air” (yesterday). Your tip about the F-35 combined with recent stories about the canoe-building capabilities of ASC led me to think. Could someone better informed than me make a little table comparing the Collins submarine project with the F-35 project? Like when they commenced, how much they’ve cost to date, when the products see active service, what we have for the money, stuff like that. I suspect that on a close comparison, the Collins project might not look quite so bad. Which leads to the question why the Collins project is so widely condemned but the F-35 project just goes on and on?

How the government is cutting the pay of GPs

Dan Hilvert writes: Re. “Abbott dumps copayment — onto GPs” (yesterday). There’s something more significant about the GP co-pay reforms that most of the media still hasn’t picked up on. Level B consults (or item 23) which accounts for the majority of GP consults (88 million last year out of a total of 120 million) will only be chargeable for GPs if they see that patient for 10 minutes or more as opposed to the previous six minutes. For some GPs that will make a MASSIVE dent in their annual incomes because many of their consults would fall between six and 10 minutes (think yourself how many times you saw a GP and it lasted between six and 10 minutes). No longer can your GP charge Medicare anywhere near as much.

Under the current regime GPs can charge $37.05 for item 23 if the consult lasts seven minutes, but under the new regime they will only be able to charge $11.95 for a seven minute consult. That is obviously a disastrous outcome for the GP so probably they’ll end up doing longer consults with patients to ensure they can claim item 23 but even then their getting a double whammy income wise: $5 less per consult and seeing fewer patients per day (this is much more significant than the $5 hit).

Is this good policy?

Maybe yes — because it stamps out sausage machine medicine and mean that patients get better service. Taxpayer certainly gets better bang for buck. Health does need to move in the user pay direction in longer term or taxpayer will be too strained by health expenditure … I don’t agree with your views that healthcare costs growth is somehow sustainable (one data point from the AIHW does not solve the problem, growth is entrenched and will choke budgets badly).

Maybe no — If GPs see fewer patients (time will tell how they react to this) then that is probably a poor outcome for Australia seeings GPs generally do a great job and save the health system a lot of money, they are arguably the cheapest part of the system and potentially reduce strain on the much much more costly areas of hospitals. But hard for Commonwealth to control hospital budgets seeing as they are state run.

Won’t somebody think of the neighbours?

Nic Maclellan writes: Re. “Overseas coverage sweeps Walkleys as ABC cuts jobs at Foreign Correspondent” (Tuesday).  Your media correspondent notes that the ABC is closing its New Zealand bureau. Is this the same New Zealand bureau that was supposed to take up Pacific Island coverage when Radio Australia Pacific correspondent Campbell Cooney lost his job and long serving Pacific correspondent Sean Dorney was shown the door when Australia Network TV was closed?

Across the Pacific, many people in rural communities and outlying islands rely on Radio Australia’s shortwave and FM broadcasts. However it seems that ABC management with its fixation on digital streaming  couldn’t give a stuff about our near neighbours. Under its charter, the ABC has a mandate for international coverage, yet ABC management seems determined to lose regional market share through the decimation of Radio Australia’s foreign language broadcasting (just two journalists are left to broadcast in Tok Pisin to Papua New Guinea, with one staff member for each of the Vietnamese, Khmer and French services). Beyond this, Radio Australia broadcasting to northern Pacific nations like the Marshall Islands and Federated States of Micronesia has just ended.

Foreign affairs is supposed to be the strong suit for the Abbott government, but the gutting of Radio Australia and international broadcasting is a foreign policy disaster that needs urgent attention.

Peter Fray

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