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Will there be a Royal Commission into premature deaths caused by the Federal Budget?

Professor Peter Brooks, School of Population and Global Health, University of Melbourne writes:

Imagine the future:

HEADLINE STORY FROM THE NEW AGE NEWSPAPER MARCH 10TH 2025

‘ABBOTT AND HOCKEY APPEAR BEFORE ROYAL COMMISSION INTO PREMATURE DEATHS CAUSED BY THE FALLOUT OF THE 2014 BUDGET’

“Ex PM Tony Abbott and ex Treasurer Joe Hockey faced rigorous questioning today, the opening day of the Royal Commission into the 2014 budget.

The harsh budget caused premature deaths, a significant increase in heart disease and diabetes and increased waiting times at public hospitals for outpatient appointments and elective procedures.  

Counsel for the 10 000 families who have lost loved ones prematurely due to illness pointed out that the numbers involved in this Royal Commission were significantly higher than the deaths of three young men that sparked the last Royal Commission into deaths attributed to the‘ Pink Batt’ fiasco.  That Royal Commission resulted in the incarceration of another ex PM Kevin Rudd on Manus Island for 6 months in 2015.

Mr Abbott was asked if he had been provided with any information by his Government departments that might have predicted the early deaths attributed to the budget cuts. Mr Abbott strongly denied any knowledge of potential consequences.

When provided with evidence that such data had been reported by senior government officials to a Senate Committee (Age 7th June 2014) ,Mr Abbott replied that he must have missed that as he only read the Murdoch papers at that time.”

So, back to the present –

Inequality is already a significant problem in Australia and this budget places a significant additional financial impost on the very generation that we should be nurturing, this budget attacks the young people of Australia.

What evidence is there to suggest that the 2014 budget is going to increase disease and quicken the spread of inequality across the community? Government officials have stated that they expect 550,000 applications for assistance in the form of food vouchers, medications, clothing and assistance with rent and utility bills.

The risk for young folk who are targeted in this budget is that they slip into a spiral of unemployment, inability to pursue education and, because of their dire social circumstances  (including poor nutrition) develop mental and physical illness.

A $7 co-payment for attending a doctor will surely only add to the problem. There is again significant data from Australia and overseas to show that co-payments do act as a disincentive for people attending a health professional meaning that they present later, with more severe illness and actually cost more to society in the long term.

In the worse case scenario this spiral may shorten lives. We already have evidence that mortality is higher  between the most and the least socially disadvantaged areas in Australia.

Surely this cannot be seen as a sensible economic or even more importantly, desirable personal outcome. We know that unemployment is associated with an increased risk of suicide and death from unspecified causes,  an increase the likelihood of engaging in anti-personal and anti-social behaviours such as drug and alcohol abuse and an increase the likelihood of criminal activity.

It will also increase the level of inequality (the gap between the ‘haves and the have nots ‘) in Australia – something that has happened in most countries around the world as they have pursued economic development (see Wilkinson and Pickett: The Spirit Level. Why equality is better for everyone. Penguin 2010).

If one were to be really cynical, they would point out that these extra costs on the health system will be picked up down the line by the state governments.  A very deft way of cost shifting, state Ministers of Health and Treasurers be warned!

Is this the Australia my generation has worked for? The country that is still one of only 6 nations in the world with a triple A credit rating and one of the lowest GDP to government debt ratios on the planet?

This draconian fiscal response to budget projections is extremely narrow, seemingly based purely on reducing spending without taking into account what the economic consequences of those spending cuts might be.

The predictions that they will generate billions of dollars in unnecessary health expenses 10- 20 years down the track, let alone the untold pain to individuals with premature illness, is based on significant data.

This is not to deny the benefits of fiscal accountability, but to raise the issue that the societal consequences need to be considered as well. Any decision has risks associated with it, these risks should be discussed and economic consequences of such risks should surely be considered as well. We see little of this risk analysis in the writings of the so called economic ‘gurus ‘ of recent times.

The really scary thing is that the outcomes alluded to above are actually possible. We will be able to follow this cohort of young Australians over the next 10 years and see if these predictions are true – but by the time the data are obvious, it will be too late for those 500,000 young Australians who are caught up in this fiscal exercise.

The Government and Opposition, particularly those new Senators,  need to ask themselves “is it really worth it?”  It is a very brave ‘experiment’ and perhaps not one the electorate had contemplated. If this ‘experiment’ was subjected to an Ethics Committee for the conduct of health research, I doubt I could support it on the evidence presented.

If these predictions are correct, then it may play out with the scenario suggested at the beginning of this article and a Royal Commission into Premature Deaths.  I hope not – but the data are hard to deny.

Should we be risking our future, the young Australians of today, in this manner?  Based on the evidence there are many more sensible, and less risky, ways to economic rectification.

Comments 3

  1. John Mendoza says:

    Thank you Peter for this contribution.

    I expect your prediction of a RC into the impact of a number of the proposals in Budget 2014 will occur if the Government presses ahead. If the Treasurer’s threats of ever more severe austerity measures and some of the proposals in the Interim Report from the McClure Review the impact will be ever greater.

    While the Cabinet may not have sought advice from relevant Department’s on these measures, I can assure you they have since been told directly and shown the evidence that these measures will result in preventable deaths of vulnerable Australians.

    The Prime Minister and senior Minister’s will have no where to hide.

  2. Scott says:

    The death rate per 1000 people has been dropping continuously for both men and women over the last 15 years, mainly due to improved lifestyle factors and improvement in medical technology and health care.

    Do you honestly believe that this trend will be reduced by the introduction of a $7 co-payment for a GP visit? Seriously?

    The level of hyperbole this co-payment has generated is unbelievable in my opinion. A lot of vested interests making a lot of noise under the umbrella of caring about the public, but in reality, the motive is simple self interest as they see revenue reduction hitting their businesses due to less people going to the doctor.

    And it’s funny as, in my opinion, the end game for health care would be to see no one going to the GP at all (other than for innoculations or trauma) as everyone is healthy.

    Reduced GP visits should be something to aspire to, not to fear.

  3. crbstee says:

    On the contrary SCOTT, I think the end-game for health is that everyone has a GP that they trust and visit regularly. The point is that we all do get sick at some point and the cheapest, most effective way to keep levels of ill-health at a minimum is strong primary and preventative care. Reduced GP visits can mean increased hospital visits. There is evidence that every $1 saved in GP visits leads to over $3 costs incurred at hospital level. So reduced GP visits should not be aspired to per se.

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alcohol
consumer health matters
COVIDwrap
environmental health
Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASD)
food and nutrition
gambling
Government 2.0
gun control
health communications
health impact assessment
Health in All Policies
health inequalities
health literacy
human rights
illicit drugs
injuries
legal issues
marriage equality
Media Doctor Australia
media-related issues
nanny state
National Preventive Health Agency
obesity
occupational health
physical activity
plain packaging
prevention
public health
public interest journalism
road safety
sport
sugar tax
tobacco control
transport
vaccination
violence
Web 2.0
weight loss products
Royal Commission
Social determinants of health
discrimination
education
housing
justice
Justice Reinvestment
NBN
Newstart
poverty
racism
social policy
Summer reading 2020-2021
Tasmanian election 2021
Testing Croakey News category 1
The Croakey Archives
#cripcroakey
#HealthEquity16
#HealthMatters
#IHMayDay (all years)
#IHMayDay 2014
#IHMayDay15
#IHMayday16
#IHMayDay17
#IHMayDay18
#LoveRural 2014
Croakey Conference News Service 2013 – 2019
2013 conferences
Australian Centre for Health Services Innovation Forum 2013
Australian Health Promotion Association Conference 2013
Closing the Credibility Gap 2013
CRANAplus Conference 2013
FASD Conference 2013
Health Workforce Australia 2013
International Health Literacy Network Conference 2013
NACCHO Summit 2013
National Rural Health Conference 2013
Oceania EcoHealth Symposium 2013
PHAA conference 2013
2014 conferences
#IPCHIV14
AIDA Conference 2014
Congress Lowitja 2014
CRANAplus conference 2014
Cultural Solutions - Healing Foundation forum 2014
Lowitja Institute Continuous Quality Improvement conference 2014
National Suicide Prevention Conference 2014
Racism and children/youth health symposium 2014
Rural & Remote Health Scientific Symposium 2014
2015 conferences
#CPHCEforum
#CRANAplus15
#HSR15
#NRHC15
#OTCC15