Doctors have delivered a scathing diagnosis following the yesterday’s announcement of South Australian budget — with surgeons set to share in the hip-pocket pain.
South Australian Treasurer Rob Lucas handed down his first budget in 17 years yesterday and has singled out the hospital system for its repeated failures to meet savings targets.
Balancing the health budget has proven to be a delicate operation for successive state treasurers, and Mr Lucas also warned privatisations were on the cards.
The State Government has reduced savings targets for health to reduce financial pressures, but identified savings include the reduction of staff in the Department for Health and Wellbeing by 10 per cent, and increased fees for doctors who treat patients in public hospitals.
Bernadette Mulholland of the Salaried Medical Officers’ Association said the doctors’ union was outraged by the plans to take more money from clinicians when they treat private patients in public hospitals.
“If you want to pay for proper services and for proper doctors and you don’t want to have the dregs of the medical workforce, then you need to pay for it,” she said.
But Mr Lucas defended the decision.
“Why is it fair that in South Australia their payment for the rights to private practice are at 9 per cent of income, in other jurisdictions it’s as high as 68 per cent and 90 per cent,” he said.
Treasurer Rob Lucas and Premier Steven Marshall congratulate each other on their first state budget together. (ABC Radio Adelaide: Malcolm Sutton)
Public hospital service providers including pathology and public imaging have also been put on notice to reduce their costs, or public hospitals will use private providers.
Australian Medical Association president William Tam had a mixed reaction to the budget, welcoming increased funding in regional and rural healthcare such as $140 million for Country Health capital works and $20 million over four years for the rural workforce strategy.
But he said it would be insufficient and would do nothing to address workforce shortages.
“And will probably only apply to one hospital in the country,” he said.
“And of course in South Australia there is a significant problem of workforce shortages in our rural and remote communities.”
‘Attacking’ those who can’t afford it
Some SA Housing Trust tenants will be asked to pay more rent, with increases phased in for tenants of bedsit cottage flats and one-bedroom cottage flats from their current rates of 19 and 21 per cent respectively to a standard rate of 25 per cent of household income.
The Treasurer said lifting some Housing Trust rents would bring South Australia into line with other states and the rent hike would be phased in over several years, starting in November.
This would give the Government an additional $2.6 million per year.
Tenants on moderate incomes will pay up to 30 per cent of their assessable household income — up from 25 per cent — and the Housing Trust will also reduce staff by around 125 full-time employees.
But South Australian Council of Social Service chief executive Ross Womersley said there were reasons why some people received reduced rental rates.
“One of the reasons that some of those people, the people on bedsits, actually received reduced rental arrangements was because the quality of that accommodation was inadequate,” he said.
Shelter SA CEO Alice Clark said the move was an attack on some of the state’s most vulnerable people.
“This is really attacking the people who really can’t afford it,” she said.
“So private renters trying to survive on Newstart are in a much worse position … and for these 3,000 households who are fortunate enough to have public housing, they’re really going to take a hit.
“I just wonder … if that needed to be the case.”
‘We want a public sector that we can afford’
Business SA chief executive officer Nigel McBride speaks after the SA Budget. (ABC Radio Adelaide: Malcolm Sutton)
Mr Lucas will go slightly further than Labor planned to in reducing the public service, slashing 2,241 full-time positions.
Business SA chief executive Nigel McBride congratulated the Government on starting the process of cutting a public sector that was “larger and more expensive than any other public sector in mainland Australia”.
“It’s the elephant on the back of every small business, every household in South Australia, who has to pay this huge amount for a very large public sector that often produces little more than red tape,” he said.
“At the end of the day we are not anti-public sector, but we want a public sector that we can afford.”
While some saw the move as a positive, Nev Kitchin of the Public Service Association said the cuts were evidence of a clear decision by the State Government.
“This budget reflects the Treasurer’s long-standing obsession with counting the number of public sector workers rather than focusing on the value of the services they provide,” he said.
“They have made a clear choice to reduce essential public services to the community and potentially we believe set in train years of public sector unrest in terms of industrial relations.”
But it’s not all doom and gloom amongst the reaction, with industry groups applauding the budget’s spending on infrastructure.
The Government will spend $615 million for the Gawler railway line electrification, $354.3 million for the North-South Corridor from Pym Street to Regency Road, $200 million for the Joy Baluch Bridge at Port Augusta, $305 million to duplicate Main South Road from Seaford to Aldinga, and $361 million on new schools at Munno Para, Aldinga and Whyalla.
SA Property Council’s Daniel Gannon said yesterday’s budget showed a commitment to future workers in the state.
“It’s a budget that will put hard hats and steel caps on current workers but also future workers here in South Australia,” he said.
Regional students to be hit hardest
One of the biggest talking points of the budget has been its impact on TAFE education services in South Australia.
While the State Government announced it would bail out TAFE to the tune of $109.8 million over the next five years to meet its “unsustainable” budget, several TAFE campuses with low utilisation rates will close.
This will save $32.8 million over four years, with closures including Tea Tree Gully, Port Adelaide, Urrbrae, Parafield, Wudinna, Roxby Downs and Coober Pedy.
Australian Education Union state president Howard Spreadbury said South Australians in suburban and rural areas in particular would be hit hardest.
He said the Government had a social responsibility to provide education and skills training and not close TAFE campuses.
“Think about the students in Coober Pedy who would be attending a TAFE course,” he said.
“Which private provider is going to go to Coober Pedy to offer an alternative course for those students?”