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Budget the ‘responsible’ course

The government has chosen to take the ‘responsible’ course to delay the return to surplus in order to “support jobs and growth in an uncertain world”.

Treasurer Wayne Swan made these announcements when delivering the federal government’s election budget – one that will leave Australia in a $19.4 billion dollar deficit over this financial year and expects only a slight improvement to $18 billion in the 2013-2014 financial year.

Health, along with education and infrastructure, was a big focus for spending in the budget announcement, albeit aged care was not forgotten.

The DisabilityCare Australia Program, formerly known as the National Disability Insurance Scheme, was one of the major beneficiaries.

The government plans to spend a total of $19.3 billion over seven years to roll it out by 2018/19.

In part, the program will be funded by a rise in the Medicare levy starting at half a per cent, rising in 2014 to a total of two per cent of taxable income. The profit from the levy is expected to be close to $20.4 billion between 2015-2019.

Savings will be placed in a fund, and only available only to the DisabilityCare Australia scheme.

At an NDIS conference following the announcement, prime minister Julia Gillard said, “We are prepared to make a big decision so that Australians with disabilities don’t get left behind.

“We are standing for this choice: disability care and an increase of half a per cent in the Medicare levy.”

Health wins for the elderly included a $55 million to expand breast cancer screening to include women aged 70-74.

The move has pleased many in the sector, with CPSA senior policy advisor Amelia Christie describing this as a “simple reform, but one that will have huge benefits for older women”.

The only downside, she suggests, is that this isn’t scheduled to start until 2016. “The reform should be moved forward to 2013 to help save women’s lives sooner rather than later.”

Funding was also announced for prostate, lung and bowel cancer and bone marrow transplants.
Ian Yates, CEO of COTA Australia said older Australians will welcome the additional commitments to cancer research and treatment.

“We are pleased that other cancers that affect mostly older people have been given a priority in the budget with funding for a new Australian prostate cancer research centre and additional funding for the bowel screening program which saves many thousands of lives.”

The government will also undertake research to better address chronic wound management for older people living in the community.

Aside from health, the government announced several initiatives to support elderly Australians in retirement.

A definite win for aged care was the announcement of a $112.4 million pilot to assist elderly who want to downsize their homes – without it affecting their pension.

Chief executive of Masters Builders Australia Wilhelm Harnisch said: “The current rules lock many older Australians into homes that do not suit their needs.

“Many of these people do not have sufficient income to make improvements to their home such as bathrooms, modified entries and other design aids to make living in the home more comfortable and safe.”

According to treasurer Wayne Swan, “under the trial program, eligible pensioners who have lived in their own home for at least 25 years and want to downsize will need to put a minimum of 80 per cent of the excess sale proceeds from the sale of their former home into a special account, up to a maximum of $200,000 (plus earned interest)”.

Continuing to build on the foundation of the Broadband for Seniors platform, the new Keeping Seniors Connected program will provide an extra $9.9 million over four years for new technology and training grants for the Broadband for Seniors kiosks.

The third major investment will be the establishment of the Andrew Fischer Applied Policy Institute for ageing. The government would provide $4.6 million to guarantee Australia is at the forefront of international policy and development, important in facing the challenges of an ageing world.

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