Budget fiddles while public hospitals burn, Catholic Health warns

The lack of new funding for public hospitals in this year's Federal Budget is "astounding", says Catholic Health head Francis Sullivan, while Catholic Social Services director Frank Quinlan describes the budget as shortsighted.

With the Government well behind in the polls after 11 years in power, Treasurer Peter Costello last night unveiled $31.5 billion worth of tax cuts over four years, and extra benefits for families.

In a statement, Mr Quinlan said some Budget measures will make life a bit easier for some families and lower income Australians in the short term but that the budget speech, which laid out challenges for the next ten years, failed to detail how Australia's most disadvantaged people would participate in the long term prosperity of the country.

"Low income earners will only share in the substantial investment in education if that investment is matched by similar long term initiatives in health care, affordable housing and early intervention," Mr Quinlan said.

Commenting on the budget measures on dental health care, Mr Quinlan said that it's "a sad reflection on society when poor dental health alone is not enough to justify access to dental care".

"The dental health initiatives will only assist those who have become so sick that they need medical care for related conditions," Mr Quinlan said.

With respect to the $16 a week for average income earners, Mr Quinlan described it as welcome but added that it "does little to secure long term access to affordable housing".

"Tax cuts do nothing to ease the burden of those receiving benefits or pensions who currently live in poverty and struggle every day just to make ends meet.

"While initiatives aimed at relieving hardship through education are welcome, the Government has missed an opportunity in these good times to invest significantly in social infrastructure in areas such as health and housing for the long term benefit of the country, particularly in areas of high disadvantage," Mr Quinlan said.

Meanwhile, Catholic Health Australia CEO Francis Sullivan characterised the health and aged care budgets as "a tale of two stories".

"The Government has responded well to industry concerns over access problems for low care people and has increased its funding package by close to $100 million," he said.

"This will take the pressure off increasing accommodation fees and ensuring that low income self funded retirees and pensioners are treated on an equal footing."

"However the health budget more broadly is far less impressive. The government announced 76 new funding initiatives and all fall well short of meeting the recognised demand.

"Most glaringly is the lack of attention given to public hospitals," Mr Sullivan believes.

"When the government enjoys such a massive surplus, it is astounding that they have deliberately disregarded the obvious pressures on public hospitals. It is as if the government is fiddling while the public hospitals burn."

"Health care is a vital economic investment that deserves far more serious attention than it has received in this year's budget," he concluded.

Catholic Health Australia
Budget lacks vision for long term investment (Catholic Social Services Australia, Media Release, 8/5/07)

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Catholic Health Australia
Catholic Social Services Australia
Budget website

Budget should be statement of values: Vinnies chief (CathNews, 8/5/07)

9 May 2007