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Less than two middies: Joe Hockey defends $7 GP fee

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GP visit less than two beers: Hockey

Spend less on cigarettes and beers, and more on visiting the doctor says the Treasurer.

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Forget inflation; forget the government bond rate. Treasurer Joe Hockey on Thursday morning injected a new price measure into the political lexicon: the Middy Exchange Rate (MER).

In an interview with the ABC’s Chris Uhlmann on Thursday morning, Mr Hockey said Labor and doctors’ groups needed a reality check on the impact of a $7 Medicare co-payment on GP visits.

Treasurer Joe Hockey arriving in the press gallery for early morning interviews on Thursday.

Treasurer Joe Hockey arriving in the press gallery for early morning interviews on Thursday. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen

Compared to other everyday costs, he said, a co-payment is small beer – even for poor patients.

“I'd say to you, Chris, one of the things that quite astounds me is some people are screaming about a $7 co-payment,” Mr Hockey said.

“One packet of cigarettes costs $22. That gives you three visits to the doctor. You can spend just over $3 on a middy of beer, so that's two middies of beer to go to the doctor.

“And is a parent really going to deny their sick child a visit to the doctor which would be the equivalent payment of a couple of beers or one-third of a packet of cigarettes?”

(A middy – for those unfamiliar with NSW drinking habits – is a 285-millilitre glass of beer. In Darwin you’d call it a handle; a pot in Melbourne. And to be strictly accurate, you'd have to go back to 2006 to find a middy that is cheaper, when it cost $2.87. The most recent Australian Bureau of Statistics data, from 2011, shows the average price of a middy is $3.74.)

Uhlmann, an experienced interrogator, pressed on. What if you’re 27 years old, unemployed and no longer have access to welfare benefits, he asked. Would a visit to the doctor - like a beer or cigarettes - become a luxury?

“Well, I would expect to be in a job,” Mr Hockey shot back. “That'd be the starting point, you'd be in a job. And we need you to work.”

In later interviews, Mr Hockey ditched the middy for a macchiato.

"[T]he fundamental point is: are people in a position now where they're not prepared to give up a couple of cups of coffee or something else in their lives in order to take a sick child to the doctor?" he said.  

Opposition Leader Bill Shorten said the comments showed how out of touch Mr Hockey was with the "real needs of ordinary Australians".

"Casually dismissing the new tax on going to the doctor and saying that it wasn't very much money at all and what was the fuss about," he said.

While Mr Hockey is the first politician to deploy the MER, he’s hardly Robinson Crusoe when it comes to beverage-related comparisons.

Earlier this year, Labor accused Liberal MP Ann Sudmalis of arrogance for comparing the cost of a co-payment to a cup of coffee.

And Amanda Vanstone, then a senior minister in the Howard government, undercut her own party’s $5 tax cuts with an oft-repeated analogy. 

"Five dollars: hell, what will it buy them?” she asked. “A sandwich and a milkshake if you are lucky. Not much." 

- with Gareth Hutchens

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340 comments

  • What about big fat cigars Joe, how many of them would $7 buy?

    Commenter
    Terry
    Location
    Sydney
    Date and time
    May 15, 2014, 12:03PM
    • Thanks for the question, and the answer is not many. Furthermore, its questions like that that continually derail any meaningful political debate and why you find yourself with representative democracy.

      Commenter
      Payback
      Location
      Sydney
      Date and time
      May 15, 2014, 12:13PM
    • Seems as apt as comparing it to middies.

      Commenter
      Animal Farm
      Location
      1984
      Date and time
      May 15, 2014, 12:17PM
    • Actually, it's comments like Hockey's that derail the debate.

      Comparing a doctor's visit to serves of beer. And even worse, cigarettes, when barely 10% of the populace smoke. How irrelevant and out of touch is Joe.

      Not even going into his stupid remark that you should be working to go to the doctor. Guess he'd prefer to abolish unemployment benefits entirely and foolishly believe in 100% employment.

      Commenter
      TheBigM
      Date and time
      May 15, 2014, 12:22PM
    • The point is that a $7 fee won't MAKE anyone unable to go to the doctor if they need to - unless they've chosen to spend all their income on other things (beer, smokes, drugs, mcdonalds...) as everyone either has a wage, or some sort of welfare 'entitlement' (hand-out) payment, or is too well-off (or their spouse/parents are too well-off) to get any welfare (in which case $7 isn't an issue for them).

      However, it WILL make people think twice about visiting a 'free' (bulk-billing) GP when they don't need to (eg. to get a fake sick-note for work, to socialise when they are bored/lonely, to vent about their hypochondria) - and it is those totally unnecessary builk-billed visits that need to be eliminated. They are costing us taxpayers over $50 each time! So much for 'free'!

      Commenter
      Rob
      Location
      Sydney
      Date and time
      May 15, 2014, 12:25PM
    • But Hockey's comments about beer and cigarettes are right on point, Paytback?

      Commenter
      Jace
      Date and time
      May 15, 2014, 12:27PM
    • @Payback

      I think it was a very relevant question actually! A poignant, brief question which hits at the very heart of the topic;

      Hockey should be hit with the same moronic reasoning that he seeks to throw onto everyone else; "What about YOUR luxuries, Joe"?

      Commenter
      Mick
      Location
      NSW
      Date and time
      May 15, 2014, 12:29PM
    • They looked like Robustos to me - at least 40 ring gauge. In a Cohiba - about $45 bucks minimum, in a cheaper Dominican maybe as cheap as $25. But not much cheaper than that if they were of any sort of quality.

      As the story, goes, Joe and Mathias blow one everyday after Question Time. So at least $120 a week, each - on cigars.

      In touch with the common man?

      Commenter
      in the land of the little kings
      Date and time
      May 15, 2014, 12:32PM
    • You tell 'em Joe. These lazy poor people should stop spending all their money on frivolous things like smoking and drinking and moccasins. Then they'd have the money for important things like a trip to the French Riviera, and they could stop complaining. Wingers!

      Commenter
      Nothing Changes
      Location
      Melbourne
      Date and time
      May 15, 2014, 12:33PM
    • Hockey & Abbott are treating the public with disdain. They have no shame.

      Commenter
      Kent
      Date and time
      May 15, 2014, 12:35PM

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