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.