Fed: Turnbull throws down gauntlet on private health rebateBy Kate Hannon, National Political Editor
14 May 2009 9:12 PM
CANBERRA, May 14 AAP - Labor faces defeat over its plans to cut the private health insurance rebate after the opposition announced it will block the budget measure.
But in a bid to dodge being tagged as constantly negative, Opposition Leader Malcolm Turnbull has offered the government a trade-off.
The opposition is offering to replace the forecast $1.9 billion in savings that would come from paring back access to the private health insurance rebate with a 12.5 per cent increase in the tobacco excise - a tax of three cents per cigarette.
"Tobacco is the single most preventable cause of ill health and death in Australia," Mr Turnbull said.
In his budget-in-reply address on Thursday night, Mr Turnbull attacked the spiralling levels of debt forecast in the budget and run up by Labor with its "profligate" spending on two economic stimulus packages.
Mr Turnbull said Labor had increased debt levels by $124 billion since its election in November 2007, leaving every man, woman and child each owing $9,000.
He dismissed Tuesday night's budget with its $57.6 billion deficit and forecast of a return to growth in two years and to surplus in six years as unbelievable.
"There will come a time when Australians will look wistfully at $188 billion of debt and ask not when our debt will rise to that peak, but when it will descend to it," Mr Turnbull told parliament.
He said that within two or three years debt levels would increase to $250 billion or even $300 billion.
If elected, Mr Turnbull said the coalition would increase scrutiny of government finances and the budget process by setting up a Commission for Sustainable Finances to review commonwealth spending.
"The alarming expansion of spending under Labor makes this vitally important," Mr Turnbull said.
"Annual spending is projected to rise from $272 billion in 2007/08 to $342 billion in 2010/11 - the largest three-year increase since the mid-1970s."
The coalition would also set up a Parliamentary Budget Office which would provide independent analysis of the budget on behalf of the parliament.
"Governments never welcome greater scrutiny, and so I'm under no illusion that this proposal will be greeted with any great enthusiasm by the prime minister and the treasurer," Mr Turnbull said.
He said only a coalition government could take the tough decisions needed to return the budget to surplus.
"We have a prime minister yet to make a tough decision, who wants always to be Santa Claus and we, and our children and perhaps their children after them, will be paying the bill for that for many years to come," Mr Turnbull said.
He said Labor's budget measure to means test access to the private health insurance rebate for singles earning more than $74,000 and families with combined incomes of $150,000 would put public hospitals under increased pressure and make health more expensive.
"The government could comfortably afford to retain the current private health insurance rebate without any cost to the published budget outcome," Mr Turnbull said.