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Keep those struggling at front and centre of GST debate

19 October 2015

Discussions about the Goods and Services Tax in the media lately have in many cases failed to place the GST in the much needed, broader tax debate.  We keep being diverted about possible GST rates of 12% and 15% and indeed 20% along with a notion that increasing the GST will fix most, if not all, of our budget woes. It won’t. It certainly won’t deliver the “lower, simpler, fairer tax system” that the Treasurer keeps on about, and it won’t deliver the “mark of our humanity to look after those most vulnerable” spruiked by the Prime Minister when opening an aged care facility recently.

We are yet to hear any detailed proposals on how the extra income raised will be spent.  Some recently reported possibilities are to address the budget bottom line, or as a trade off against the removal of a plethora of state taxes. We’ve heard some sensible arguments about using the increased GST revenue to address basic health services and education, but not a lot of detail. Nor have we heard much detail regarding how compensation packages for those already disadvantaged and vulnerable will work.

People with multiple sclerosis (MS), their carers and families are keen to get these details. MS, like other neurological and neuromuscular conditions is expensive. Even with financial support regular visits to doctors, neurologists and other health specialists is expensive; balancing the cost of medicines, aids and equipment and other costs is a daily worry. Those with MS living on a disability or aged pension struggle as it is and are fearful of talk of a rise in the GST, without knowing if they will be compensated and how.

The recent proposal from the Treasurer to extend the GST to healthcare will add to this burden.

People with MS need to plan their lives.  Keeping in mind that diagnosis of MS is typically between 20 and 40 years of age, that 75% of people diagnosed with MS are women, and that 50 to 80% of people with MS cease to work full-time within 10 years of diagnosis, there are some serious life choices, decisions and plans to be made.  We need to be able to reassure people with MS that the health and social services sectors will support them now and in the future.

At least the GST conversation is finally addressing the “income” side of the national budget equation and has to some extent broadened the Federal Government’s focus on cost-cutting.  MSA commends the work that ACOSS is doing on behalf of many of us in the not-for-profit sector in calling for comprehensive tax reform and taking the opportunity to really think about all the aspects of what a fairer taxation system might look like.

Let’s keep the taxation conversation lively, and keep the impact on those who are struggling at the front and centre of the debate.