Medicare levy increase

An Open Letter to News Limited Columnist Andrew Bolt

Dear Mr Bolt,

There have been numerous occasions in which you have used your abrasive and far reaching column in News Limited publications to grossly misrepresent the truth and cynically exploit matters of public importance for your own purposes, but this time I think you have reached a new low.

Your opinion piece on Thursday 2 May entitled ‘Why Should We Bail Her Out?’ was, quite simply, one of the most irresponsible and insincere examples of journalism I have ever witnessed.

I think it is important that the Gillard Government’s decision to raise the Medicare levy (levy, Mr Bolt, not a tax as you indicated several times) by 0.5 per cent to help fund DisabilityCare Australia is subject to open and rigorous debate. But this matter, which directly affects the lives of more than 400,000 people around Australia who have been waiting for years for such a reform, needs to be approached with diligence and care.

You exhibited neither.

I refer to your following statement, which had obviously been written after you ingested too much coffee:

The Government needs more taxes to help pay for not just its disability scheme but for everything else it’s using borrowed billions to fund— like its global warming schemes, its boat people disaster, its NBN white elephant and the thousands of extra public servants it’s hired.

I haven’t got the time or energy to point out how fundamentally inaccurate these claims are. Without even addressing your vague reference to a “boat people disaster” and leaving aside the fact that the National Broadband Network is certainly not a “white elephant” I would also like to say that the Howard Government actually increased public service employment levels at a greater rate than the Rudd and Gillard Governments. In any case, surely you can recognise that the decision to increase the Medicare levy to provide for DisabilityCare Australia is a responsible course of action given that tax revenue has fallen in accordance with global macroeconomic trends that no Australian government could control.

Also, it is worth noting that in the first full year of this levy (which commences on 1 July 2014), Australians will still benefit from a net tax cut worth $19.7 billion in that year alone. Low income earners will continue to receive relief from the Medicare levy through the low income thresholds for singles, families, seniors and pensioners and, as indicated, Australians will still receive the Government’s three rounds of tax cuts and the tripling of the tax free threshold. For example, someone earning $30,000 a year will pay an extra 41 cents a day in Medicare levy, but still be paying $903 less income tax per year than they were in 2007.

This Government is not “spendthrift” Mr Bolt. It is a Government responding decisively and realistically to global economic conditions that affect tax revenue and one that realises that disability reform simply can’t wait any longer.

I now turn to this particular passage:

The Government’s done this before, of course. Remember its ‘‘flood levy’’ two years ago? Note that it never asks you for a ‘‘boat people levy’’ instead?

I should remind you that the “flood levy”, cynically opposed by the Opposition, was in direct response to a crippling environmental disaster (the worst flood in this nation’s history in fact) that killed 35 people and led to close to $2.4 billion dollars in total damages. This is also an opportune moment to point out that those seeking asylum by boat, aeroplane or any other means are “asylum seekers” and that referring to individuals as “boat people” is unacceptable. In an information age, Mr Bolt, ignorance is an option.

To tie the levy implemented to get Queensland on its feet again following the 2010-2011 floods to the current proposal to raise the Medicare levy by 0.5 per cent to fund a vitally important disability scheme and imply that both are the result of government largesse is extraordinary. It appears there is no limit to your willingness to exploit any issue to draw attention to yourself.  This is the case even where the policies you are deriding help those who need it most; whether that be a community in Queensland completely devastated by flood or a person with a disability who can’t enjoy gainful employment because of limitations in their care that they can’t afford to rectify themselves.

Finally, I should probably remind you that for someone earning a wage of $70,000 a year, the levy increase you so despise will be a modest contribution of around 96 cents a day or about two cups of a coffee a week.  Two cups of coffee a week, Mr Bolt, to provide satisfactory care and support for members of our community who are sick of waiting.

Surely even you can appreciate that this is a small sacrifice worth making.

Let’s compare this cost, a cost of two cups of coffee a week, to the costs imposed on those with a disability. As disability advocate Stella Young explains in an opinion piece published earlier this week:

I live in Victoria where the current maximum funding for a wheelchair is $8,000. My chair cost $22,000, so $14,000 of that came out of my pocket. No doubt many Australians assume people who need wheelchairs can just have them. Not true. The amount and type of funding you receive to have your needs met depends on where and how you acquired your impairment.

Stella goes on:

Last year I forked out for my chair so that I can continue to work and live. I did it so that I can pay taxes. So that means if there’s a levy for the disability scheme, I will have the honour of paying for it too.

Take careful note of these words Mr Bolt. They come from someone who has spent years fighting for a disability scheme to provide comprehensive coverage for all Australians no matter how they acquired their injury. Stella doesn’t want a handout from the government, she wants to work, pay her taxes and contribute to society like everyone else.

She has patiently and persistently sought to persuade the community that such a comprehensive disability scheme will immeasurably improve the lives of those who have been neglected by governments for too long. People who can only take one shower a week, people who can’t use public transport, people who can’t move freely around their home and people who can’t their lives with the dignity and independence they crave.

Stella does so with the knowledge that journalists of influence like yourself, with a large following across Australia, have the power to undermine efforts at funding this overdue reform for the simple reason that you are out to attack the Gillard Government’s every move and satisfy your own political agenda.

You should be ashamed of these words published in major Australian newspapers as well as your blog. I certainly hope you have the courage to front members of the community who have disabilities when they turn to you and demand answers, half of whom are living near or below the poverty line.

I also hope you reconsider your mindless campaign against this Medicare levy increase and think about whether once again you will find yourself on the wrong side of history in years to come when DisabilityCare Australia comes to fruition and changes the lives of people in Australia living every day with a disability.