Friday, August 20, 2010
A COALITION government would revive the controversial Howard-era plan for a national access card to identify every individual receiving government benefits, shadow treasurer Joe Hockey has revealed.
On the eve of what Prime Minister Julia Gillard says will be a "cliffhanger" federal election, Mr Hockey has told The Age that giving everyone a single identifier for access to health and welfare benefits could lead to "massive improvements in productivity in health and welfare".
But instead of everyone having a card, this time the identifier could be in electronic form.
In other developments as Australians prepared to go to the polls tomorrow:
Ms Gillard rushed out a new policy in a bid to win the family vote, sweetening her parental leave plan with the additional promise of two weeks' paid leave for new fathers.
The Coalition revealed plans to cut a further $1.5 billion from the federal education budget, including programs to help the poorest students succeed at school and enter university.
Internal emails seen by The Age revealed the Greens had been trying to "stack" calls to Melbourne talkback radio kings Neil Mitchell and Jon Faine with pro-Bob Brown messages.
Liberal leader Tony Abbott launched himself into a final campaign marathon, vowing to keep going for 36 hours until poll eve tonight.
Mr Hockey, revealing plans to revive the access card, said it would open the way for e-health systems to allow diagnosis using the internet, and give doctors access to patients' records.
The lack of an identifier and suitable software had left Labor's e-health initiative becalmed, despite heavy spending on development. "We've got to have a single identifier for each patient, and software systems that can speak to each other, and get GPs and other professionals to have a computer on their desk to access the system," Mr Hockey said.
As human services minister in the Howard government, Mr Hockey led the drive to introduce the access card over objections from privacy advocates. The plan ran into trouble in the Senate, and was then dumped by the Rudd government, which cited cost and privacy concerns.
Mr Hockey said the failure to get the card introduced was his biggest regret in politics. Asked if he would try to introduce it again if the Coalition wins, he replied: "Absolutely but only if we get fair dinkum consolidation (of agencies' IT systems) to give better use of technology.
"Whether you go a card or not, I don't know. Everyone has a Medicare card already, but that's old technology. We're spending $140 billion to $150 billion a year on health and welfare, but what productivity improvements have there been in service delivery? None."
In recent months Health Minister Nicola Roxon and Human Services Minister Chris Bowen have revived aspects of the access card plan, floating a single system to store individuals' health information, and to allow government agencies to share a single IT platform.
Mr Hockey nominated tax reform, increasing workforce participation by young people, mothers and older people, and reform of Commonwealth-state relations as priorities if he becomes treasurer, along with getting the budget into surplus.
He said an Abbott government would bring in a tax specialist from the private sector to head its tax reform task force over the next year, rather than leave it to Treasury secretary Ken Henry.
But he expressed confidence in Dr Henry and Reserve Bank governor Glenn Stevens.
Ms Gillard used her final address to the National Press Club ahead of election day to announce the extension of Labor's 18-week paid parental leave scheme with an extra two weeks' leave for fathers.
From July 2012, fathers and secondary carers who meet work and income tests will receive two weeks' leave paid at the federal minimum wage, currently $570 a week.
The opposition said the announcement showed Labor was panicking. "This is a very, very small step to boost an impoverished scheme," said Coalition spokeswoman for the status of women, Sharman Stone.
Leaked internal research by Labor, reported last night, suggested the party was ahead nationally, but could lose the election due to big swings in New South Wales and Queensland.
Ms Gillard said in her Press Club address: "We are in one of the closest election contests in Australian history with the starkest of choices to be made.
"I present to the Australian people the better plan for a strong economy and for the benefits and dignity of work. I present with a better plan to help you manage your cost of living."
Mr Abbott likened the race to a cricket match. "It's as if there's five minutes to go in a test match, the scores are level and we've got to make sure we win."
He wanted to give Australians the "best possible chance" to change a bad government.