Quote Of The Year

Quote Of The Year - Paul Shetler - "Its not Your Health Record it's a Government Record Of Your Health Information"

Friday, November 15, 2019

What Are The Regulations For The New Electronic Prescribing Regime?

This very useful summary appeared a few days ago.

New regulations for e-prescribing and their impact on patent litigation in Australia

Australia October 30 2019
We provide an update on changes to electronic prescribing of medicines in Australia, and how this might impact on patent disputes.
Key takeouts
New regulations come into effect on 31 October 2019 that affect electronic prescribing for PBS-listed medicines. The changes do not apply to handwritten prescriptions and certain other types of prescriptions.
The key change is that the active ingredient of the medicine must be named on an electronic PBS prescription, instead of the current practice of stating the brand name only. This is part of the Federal Government's initiatives directed at increasing the uptake of generic and biosimilar medicines.
In future patent litigation it will be important to consider whether these have affected the likelihood of generic and biosimilar medicines being dispensed to patients in place of their branded equivalents.

What are the new requirements for electronic prescribing?
In more detail, under the National Health (Pharmaceutical Benefits) Amendment (Active Ingredient Prescribing) Regulations 2019 (Cth):
  • All electronic PBS prescriptions must include the name of the active ingredient.
  • The regulations do not apply to handwritten prescriptions, paper-based medication charts in the residential aged-care setting, and prescriptions for medicines with four or more active ingredients, and items determined by the Secretary to be excluded for practicality and safety reasons.
  • Prescribers can still prescribe by brand where clinically necessary, including where the medication prescribed may pose a potential patient safety risk if the brand is not specified, or to promote patient compliance where a patient is familiar with a particular brand.
  • Where the prescriber nevertheless makes a clinical decision to specify a brand name on the electronic prescription, the name of the active ingredient must appear first.
  • Prescribing software must not default to include brand names on prescriptions. In this way the regulations compel doctors to make a clinical decision regarding inclusion of a brand name.
  • Following the 31 October 2019 commencement date, there is a 12 month transition period to ensure that prescribers have sufficient time to update their prescribing software to comply with the new requirements.
The full article is here:
What is interesting to me is the increasing push to the use of generic medicines and to note that the switch will hardly be over by the end of the year. The transition to even a majority of prescriptions being electronic will take a good few years I suspect.
Although I can’t explain the reason I also am aware that many brand-name medications are perceived by their takers and not being as effective as the generic – especially with regards to some anti-depressants. I understand many psychiatrists are particularly aware of this and find the differences to be very real.
My rational mind says this should not be so but that is what I hear. That said it is useful to know what the regulations are – now that they are in force.
You can read an optimistic overview here:

Thursday, November 14, 2019

The Macro View – Health, Economics, and Politics and the Big Picture. What I Am Watching Here And Abroad.

November 14, 2019 Edition.
In the US the tempo of the impeachment program seems to be increasing and the public hearings look to be likely to be very interesting indeed. Trump has also been fined regarding the management of his charitable foundation and is apparently a bit worried about a Bloomberg run for the presidency. Trump is also so unhinged he has been heard to remark that the Turkish Presdent is a great friend of the Kurds - the man is mad!
The UK election is winding up in intensity and we all await the outcome.
In Australia the raging bushfires have pretty much overwhelmed all other news. I hope things will get a little better during the week. We are through to Thursday fires are a little better but more bad weather is expected and the political strain on the PM just grows! We need to face up to and adapt to climate change to survive!

Major Issues.


Rising prices, strong clearances put 2017 peak in sight

Nick Lenaghan Property Editor
Nov 3, 2019 — 1.07pm
The stronger than expected rebound in the housing market could see dwelling prices match their peak of two years ago by the middle of next year.
The prediction from SQM Research's Louis Christopher comes after a further week of strong clearance rates. The focus swung firmly to the Sydney market with much of Melbourne distracted by the spring racing carnival, taking a toll on the volume of listings there.
Sydney achieved a preliminary clearance rate of 79.4 per cent across 832 auctions listed, according to CoreLogic figures. The previous week the final clearance rate was 74.3 per cent from 771 listings.

Sunny side up: Australia can seize a climate of opportunity

Peter Hartcher
Political and international editor for The Sydney Morning Herald
November 2, 2019 — 12.00am
The most important thing to happen in Australian politics this week, and probably in any week since the election, is that Anthony Albanese transformed Labor's framing of climate and energy. And, as we know from the last dozen years of hard-won experience, you can't win an election without winning the politics of climate and energy.
Ever since both John Howard and Kevin Rudd went to the 2007 election promising emissions trading schemes, Australian politics in this field might have been titled after a Dostoyevsky novel Crime and Punishment. It's been about carbon crimes and how to punish them. The emphasis has been on who emits how much and how we can tax, bribe or shame them into stopping. It's been, at core, a morality tale.
Tony Abbott broke the bipartisan commitment to putting a direct tax on big carbon emitters. And he junked the Gillard-Greens coalition's $24-a-tonne carbon tax. He wanted to ease the burden of implied judgment on people who liked to switch up the aircon and take extra-long showers.
But his alternative continued to put a price on carbon regardless. Abbott's emissions reduction fund, still the centrepiece of Australia's official effort, pays companies bribes to stop emitting instead. So now the taxpayer pays instead of the emitters.

'Tis the season to slash green tape

We should protect the environment, but business must be freed from laws that strangle the economy.
Sussan Ley Contributor
Nov 3, 2019 — 3.36pm
The first major review in a decade of Australia’s central piece of national environmental law may seem, at first glance, to be simply of passing business interest. But in a world of growing environmental and business change, the review of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act will play a significant role across a wide range of sectors, from agriculture to mining and infrastructure.
The average approval time for a major project referred under the EPBC Act at present is estimated at 3½ years. Cutting these approval times could save business more than $300 million a year and ensure greater protection for the environment in the process.
The lawfare that is such a part of today’s environmental landscape can be crippling to business as well as to environmental organisations.

Westpac to raise $2.5b, profit slides 15pc

Nov 4, 2019 — 8.14am
In a dramatic full year result, Westpac Banking Corp has reported a 15 per cent plunge in its cash profit to $6.849 billion, cut its second half dividend to 80¢ and will raise $2.5 billion in fresh equity capital to support its balance sheet.
Westpac chief executive Brian Hartzer - whose short-term bonus has been sliced to zero - said the 2019 financial year was "disappointing". He sheeted the poor result back to the weaker economy and record low interest rates.
"2019 has been a disappointing year. Financial results are down significantly in a challenging, low-growth, low interest rate environment," Mr Hartzer said.
Cash earnings in the consumer, business and institutional bank all went backwards. Return on equity and the net interest margin also fell.

The nightmare haunting Aussie banks

Bank bosses agree that they're facing a "challenging" environment. But their own stress tests show that their problems could be much, much worse.
Karen Maley Columnist
Nov 4, 2019 — 12.00am
Investors recoiled in horror last week after ANZ's 2019 full-year results revealed just how "challenging" it is – to use the adjective favoured by Shayne Elliott, the boss of the Melbourne-based bank – for the banks to grow profits given the fierce competition in the home lending market and the squeeze on interest rate margins.
Of course, Elliott wasn't the first bank boss to employ the term. Back in August, Commonwealth Bank boss Matt Comyn pointed to the "challenging" context when the Sydney-based banking giant unveiled its financial results for the year ended June 30.
And we'll undoubtedly hear the word "challenging" – or perhaps synonyms such as "difficult" or "testing" – used a lot more this week when Westpac chief Brian Hartzer and National Australia Bank's acting boss, Phil Chronican, release their banks' full-year results.

‘OK Boomer’ marks the end of friendly generational relations

Taylor Lorenz
Nov 4, 2019 — 7.54am
In a viral audio clip on TikTok, a white-haired man in a baseball cap and polo shirt declares, "The Millennials and Generation Z have the Peter Pan syndrome, they don't ever want to grow up."
Thousands of teens have responded through remixed reaction videos and art projects with a simple phrase: "OK Boomer."
"OK Boomer" has become Generation Z's endlessly repeated retort to the problem of older people who just don't get it, a rallying cry for millions of fed up kids. Teenagers use it to reply to cringey YouTube videos, Donald Trump tweets, and basically any person over 30 who says something condescending about young people — and the issues that matter to them.
Teenagers have scrawled the message in their notebooks and carved it into at least one pumpkin. For senior picture day at one Virginia high school, a group of nine students used duct tape to plaster "OK Boomer" across their chests.

Press freedom must be enshrined in a charter of rights

Tony Walker
Columnist and award-winning foreign correspondent
November 3, 2019 — 11.57pm
Two weeks into a Right to Know campaign, in which the Australian media has put aside differences in an attempt to break down the walls of Jericho around arguably the most secretive democracy in the Western world, one conclusion is clear.
Meaningful progress towards a more open society in which the public’s right to know is respected will not eventuate until and unless the nation enacts a charter of rights that enshrines in statute basic freedoms that are taken for granted in comparable Western democracies.
While the media is at one in its Right to Know campaign to unlock government secrets and protect journalist inquiry, it is divided on what would be the basic building block that would facilitate a better-informed society. This is, and let me put this in capitals: a CHARTER OF RIGHTS.
Space here does not permit a listing of all the freedoms described in a charter of rights document prepared by the National Human Rights Consultation committee established in 2008 by the Kevin Rudd government as part of its 2020 agenda. But in summary the three core freedoms described in that document are the right to freedom of thought, conscience and belief; the right to manifest one’s religious beliefs; and the right to freedom of expression.

Beijing: Time to reset relations with Australia

Beijing has moved to ease tensions with Australia following a formal bilateral meeting between Scott Morrison and Chinese Premier Li Keqiang on the sidelines of the East Asia Summit on Sunday night in Bangkok with China claiming the relationship needed a reset in the interests of the region.
In a 45 minute face-to-face at the Shangri La Hotel in Bangkok, the Chinese premier said it was in the region’s interests, and that of the world, that relations between the two countries were put back on track.
A readout of the meeting which appeared on the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs said that Premier Li had rejected there was a “feud” between the two countries and remarked that a “healthy and stable development of China-Australia relations was essential to “stability and development of the region and the world”.
 “There is no historical feud or fundamental conflict of interest between China and Australia,” the statement said.

Political overkill on the banks could cost everyone

The golden age of bank profit growth is over. But the bank-bashing rhetoric has not caught up.
Nov 5, 2019 — 12.00am
Westpac announced on Monday a 15 per cent fall in its full-year profits, a cut in dividend, and the worst earnings outlook in a decade. Last week, ANZ reported flat profits and a reduction in the franked proportion of its dividend. In August, CBA’s annual profit was down 4.7 per cent.
Robust lending and profit growth, and a stream of dividends that bumped up Australians’ retirement funds, made up a golden age for Australian banking that has now passed. A decade ago, Australia’s mostly well-managed and well-supervised banks helped keep a capital-importing economy out of recession in the face of the worst global financial crisis since the 1930s. Now these same banks are politically friendless after the customer failings dramatised in the Hayne royal commission.
As Westpac boss Brian Hartzer explained on Monday, five years ago bank results were mostly shaped by normal commercial strategy and competitive pressures. Now, they are driven more driven by regulation and arbitrary tax imposts.

Why the monetary policy statement won't change

A flexible medium term inflation target will continue to underpin Australia's prosperity.
Josh Frydenberg Contributor
Nov 5, 2019 — 12.00am
Campaigning for the US presidency, Ronald Reagan said nearly 40 years ago that inflation was “as violent as a mugger, as frightening as an armed robber and as deadly as a hitman”.
Wind the clock forward to today and the chairman of the US Federal Reserve, Jerome Powell, says low inflation, not high, is “one of the major challenges of our time”.
How things change.
Unless one lives in Argentina, where the inflation rate has hit 50 per cent, inflation is no longer the economic bogyman it once was.

Vanguard plans to tackle locals in super

Jonathan Shapiro Senior Reporter
Nov 5, 2019 — 12.00am
Vanguard, the US funds management giant that disrupted funds management and financial planning when it pioneered low cost index investing, is drawing up plans to manage the superannuation assets of Australians.
The plans would take advantage of changes resulting from the Hayne royal commission, which triggered a huge shift in savings from retail for-profit funds to non-profit industry funds, and bring the $8.3 trillion firm founded by the legendary Jack Bogle into direct competition with local players.
Vanguard said its entry into superannuation follows its experience in offering retirement products in the United States and its recent investment in improving its personal investing interface in Australia.

The Prime Minister's anti-protest laws are attacks on investors too

Jenna Price
Columnist and academic at the University of Technology Sydney
November 5, 2019 — 12.00am
Politicians are frightening. Here are two good examples. The Prime Minister Scott Morrison has announced he is planning to introduce laws which will stop modern environmental activism. The Leader of the Opposition has described the Prime Minister’s words as a thought bubble. They are both dangerous. One wants to limit your liberty, the other trivialises Morrison’s plans. These are the people who are our political leaders.
First, to the Prime Minister, who made his comments in a speech to the Queensland Resources Council Annual Lunch. He said Australia faced three challenges: anarchism by environmental protesters, the disruption of resource companies' commercial operations; and secondary boycotts by environmental groups that target businesses providing goods or services to companies in the resource sector.
His response to those challenges is to outlaw them, to make it comfortable for companies who are destroying the planet. No wonder Australians despair of politicians and their handiwork.

Are investor expectations realistic in a low-return world?

Clancy Yeates
Banking reporter
October 30, 2019 — 12.00am
There are almost daily reminders that we are living in a world of slower growth and ultra-low interest rates, and few see this situation changing anytime soon.
However, how much have investors adjusted their expectations about likely lower returns?
Probably not enough, according to a recent survey from fund manager Schroders,  which suggested there is a significant gulf between what retail investors and professionals expect to make from financial assets.
After Schroders surveyed more than 25,000 investors around the world, it found Australians expected returns of 10.9 per cent a year – excluding bank deposits or property).

When to sell out of a stock

Knowing when to exit a share holding is as important as the decision to buy in.
Michael McCarthy
Nov 5, 2019 — 1.23pm
Advisers and other financial service providers devote a lot of energy to determining which stocks their clients should buy, and when to buy them. This is only half of most investment strategies. Knowing which stocks to sell, and when to sell them, is equally important.
The "buy and hold forever" investment strategy is a traditional approach. Over longer time frames (more than 20 years), it can be very powerful, especially where dividends are re-invested. It also delivers in bull markets.
Buying and locking up assets doesn't work so well in a sideways market. 
But in recent years the local share market has largely traded sideways, albeit with an upward bias. The market rewards are going to good stock-pickers and active investors.

No, the economy is not going OK

There is no cause for optimism about an economic recovery next year. New tax breaks for business investment are urgently needed to boost productivity.
Craig Emerson Columnist
Nov 5, 2019 — 4.47pm
As the Morrison government’s expenditure review committee continues its work on the mid-year economic and fiscal outlook and the Reserve Bank has released an upbeat statement to accompany its decision to keep the cash rate on hold, they should shelve their optimism about the economic outlook.
Insisting Australia’s economic fundamentals are sound, the government and the Reserve Bank believe the economy has bottomed out and is on the up and up following a “gentle turning point”, both predicting a return to trend growth or better next year.
Australia’s final national accounts for 2018-19 released less than a fortnight ago were not so gleeful. The economy grew by a mere 1.9 per cent and the Australian Bureau of Statistics pointed out that this was, on a per capita basis, the slowest rate in nine years. The statisticians went on to observe that consumer spending grew at its slowest rate in six years and the household savings ratio was at its lowest in 11 years. Labour productivity actually went backwards for the first time and multifactor productivity growth turned negative.

11,258 scientists declare 'climate emergency' (and offer a solution)

Andrew Freedman
Nov 6, 2019 — 7.18am
Washington | In a move that backs a term used so far mainly by climate activists and left-leaning politicians, a new study by 11,258 scientists in 153 countries from a broad range of disciplines has warned that the planet "clearly and unequivocally faces a climate emergency", and provides six broad policy goals that must be met to address it.
The study, published on Tuesday in the journal Bioscience, was spearheaded by the ecologists Bill Ripple and Christopher Wolf of Oregon State University, along with William Moomaw, a Tufts University climate scientist, and researchers in Australia and South Africa. The report is a stark departure from recent scientific assessments of global warming, such as those of the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, in that it does not couch its conclusions in the wishy-washy language of uncertainties, and it does prescribe policies.
The study, called the "World scientists' warning of a climate emergency", is the first time a large group of scientists has formally come out in favour of labeling climate change an "emergency", which the study notes is caused by many human trends that are together increasing greenhouse gas emissions.
The paper clearly lays out the huge challenge of reducing emissions of greenhouse gases.

Scientists declare climate crisis upon us

More than 11,000 scientists have declared the world faces a climate emergency, while Australia has been named as among the many countries not doing enough to limit warming.
The declaration, signed by scientists from 153 countries, is based on more than four decades of data examining energy use, surface temperature, population growth, land clearing, deforestation, polar ice mass, fertility rates, gross domestic product and carbon emissions.
They say that "clearly and unequivocally", Earth faces a climate emergency.
University of Sydney environmental sciences lecturer Thomas Newsome was one of the lead authors on the climate declaration paper published in BioScience on Wednesday.
"Scientists have a moral obligation to warn humanity of any great threat," he said.
"From the data we have, it is clear we are facing a climate emergency."

Gold rush may be over, but don't sell just yet

In the first six months of the year, central banks bought 374 tonnes of gold, the largest acquisition of the precious metal made by public institutions on record.
William McInnes Reporter
Nov 6, 2019 — 12.00am
Strong signalling from the Federal Reserve that it's likely to hit the pause button, positive news stemming from the US-China trade negotiations and the prospect of a Brexit solution has seen the price of gold plateau after hitting a more than six-year high in early September.
Prices have softened slightly since then and could be set to weaken further but investors may be wise to hang on to some of their exposure, particularly if they're happy to wear some losses in the short term.
"In the short term you definitely want to be trading the ranges. The price is moving up and down and can be quite volatile," says Katana Asset Management portfolio manager Romano Sala Tenna.

PM right to see danger in extremist protesters but his response is wrong

Chris Uhlmann
Nine News Political Editor
November 6, 2019 — 12.00am
The Shakers were never a wildly popular Christian sect, but they were undeniably progressive. An offshoot of the Quakers, the United Society of Believers in Christ’s Second Appearing emerged in England in the 1740s and earned their nickname through the zeal of their worship.
Shakers were pacifists who believed in the equality of the sexes, living a simple communal life and shunning the world. Their leader, Mother Ann Lee, led her flock to America in 1774 and, at their height, the Shakers numbered about 6000 living in 18 communities.
Like so many sects through the ages the Shakers were convinced the end of the world was nigh. Perhaps that’s why they saw no real risk in their defining belief: that Original Sin was sex, which meant Shakers committed themselves to universal, life-long celibacy.

There is one way forward on climate change

A carbon tax, or an emissions trading system with a price floor, is the most effective way to influence emissions, argues the FT's Martin Wolf.
Martin Wolf Columnist
Nov 6, 2019 — 10.49am
Climate policy is dangling between the cynicism of Donald Trump and the radicalism of Greta Thunberg. The US president has just pulled the world’s second-largest emitter of greenhouse gases out of the Paris climate accord.
Ms Thunberg demands significantly more than a 50 per cent cut in global net emissions by 2030. The former is certainly irresponsible. But the latter seems inconceivable.
The exasperation of radical climate activists is understandable. Despite decades of talk, emissions of greenhouse gases and global temperatures continue to rise. If the trend does not alter soon, the chances of avoiding an increase in global average temperatures of more than 1.5C above pre-industrial levels will be zero and those of avoiding a 2C increase will be tiny.

Labor election review: Shorten unpopular, no clear message

Labor’s campaign review has declared “Bill Shorten’s unpopularity contributed to the election loss” and he failed to formulate a narrative that unified the party’s policies.
The review findings, which have been obtained by The Australian before being publicly released, say Labor “did not settle on a persuasive strategy for winning the election”.
The findings say the negative gearing and franking credits policies exposed Labor to attacks from the Coalition and the party had “no clear voter-choice message”.
The report, led by Jay Weatherill and Craig Emerson, has 60 findings, and savage the campaign culture which did not allow strategies to be challenged.
“(This) led to a dismissal of warnings from within the party about the campaign’s direction,” the review findings say.

Shorten, too many policies 'lethal' for Labor

Nov 7, 2019 — 1.12pm
Labor lost the May 18 federal election because of a "lethal combination'' of an unpopular leader, a poor campaign and a policy agenda that was so cluttered and expensive that it caused low-income voters to fear it would crash the economy and risk their jobs.
Labor's post-election review, led by former South Australian Premier Jay Weatherill and former federal minister Craig Emerson, also found Labor failed to craft a single persuasive message for a change of government, failed to adjust its campaign message away from Malcolm Turnbull to Scott Morrison, and it targeted too many seats.
It slammed a culture within the party that silenced dissent over the campaign strategy.

Labor accepts it was captured by the progressive left

Aaron Patrick Senior Correspondent
Nov 7, 2019 — 2.04pm
There is nothing like a humiliating loss to shake a political party into reality.
In an act of remarkably honest analysis, the Labor Party's internal review of this year's federal election demolishes the self denial used to shift blame for the performance of the party and its devilishly cunning former leader, Bill Shorten.
In short, the review acknowledges the party was captured by the ideology, agenda and language of the progressive left. It advocates - in clear and unemotive language - a shift back to the political centre.
The review marks a seminal moment in Labor history. Party leaders acknowledge the working-class base was turned off by Shorten's "top end of town" rhetoric, scared of his $100 billion, 10-year spending splurge and don't want to kill coal mining.

Labor's high-wire act: How to shift to the centre

The party's signature challenge is how to shift back to the centre without losing its base.
Phillip Coorey Political Editor
Nov 7, 2019 — 6.00pm
If Labor's dark cloud of May 18 has one silver lining, it is that there is no mystery as to why it lost.
The post-election review led by Jay Weatherhill and Craig Emerson articulates calmly and clinically what everyone has been saying  since May 19 – Labor lost due to a combination of an unpopular leader, an unwieldy policy suite that left it prone to attack and confusion, and a flawed campaign that failed from the ground up.
Each on their own was not decisive but together, they were "a lethal combination''.
Each can be fixed.

Liberties for the chosen ones: what and who do Morrison's Liberals stand for?

David Crowe
Chief political correspondent
November 8, 2019 — 12.00am
Scott Morrison spoke as a champion of liberty nine days ago when he likened personal freedom to a lighthouse that would guide his government in rough seas. Morrison used a lecture in honour of Tom Hughes, a Liberal who fought for freedom in the air over Normandy, to talk of the rule of law, democratic principles, tolerance, respect and the sovereignty of the people.
These were not just high-sounding words, he said. “As Liberals we understand that security must recognise the rights and freedoms of individuals.” It sounded like a statement of fundamental belief for the Liberal crowd.
Two days later, Morrison made a very different speech. This time he spoke about freedoms run wild – about protesters who tried to stop coal mines and about his plan for new laws to stop boycotts.
“We are working to identify a series of mechanisms that can successfully outlaw these indulgent and selfish practices,” he told the Queensland Resources Council. “We must protect our economy from this great threat.”

Labor's heartland believe they dodged a Shorten bullet

The tax and spend model spectacularly backfired with core voters. How did Labor let that happen?
Laura Tingle Columnist
Nov 8, 2019 — 6.00pm
First there was a lost election campaign. Then there was the review of the lost election campaign. Then there were the reviews of the review of the election campaign.
It’s extraordinarily easy to forget – amid the headlines that accompanied the release on Thursday of the Craig Emerson and Jay Weatherill’s review of the Labor Party's 2019 federal election campaign – that we rarely actually ever see a document like this.
There are always mutterings and murmurings about whether such documents will be released, or whether they should be fully released. Quite regularly, someone "helpfully" leaks part of a review that hasn’t been released, in aid of a leadership ambition or some other internal warfare.

Shorten's total control of Labor airbrushed from history

Peter Hartcher
Political and international editor for The Sydney Morning Herald
November 9, 2019 — 12.00am
Labor released its internal review of its failed campaign for the 2019 election this week. It was 91 pages long and widely appraised as a frank, even brutal, reckoning. Penny Wong described it as "searingly honest". You'd hope so. Labor's share of the vote, at 33 per cent, was its lowest in a century.
Why did Labor lose? The review gave three core explanations, in this order. Weak strategy. Poor adaptability. Unpopular leader, Bill Shorten.
Okay, so what was wrong with the strategy? Hard to say. The review team couldn't find one.
"We could not find any documented strategy that had been discussed, contested and agreed across the campaign organisation, the leadership and the wider Labor Party," write former Labor federal cabinet minister Craig Emerson and former South Australian Labor premier Jay Weatherill, two of the party's grown-ups.

Beware unintended consequences, Prime Minister

Tom Switzer
November 9, 2019 — 12.00am
An important rule of politics is the law of unintended consequences. Implement hasty and radical policy and you will almost surely realise you’ve created many things you did not intend to create. Progressive governments here and abroad are especially susceptible.
This has been certainly true of several welfare programs, which left us with a backwater of side effects – dependency, illegitimacy – from which we have yet to recover.
Labor’s pink batts fiasco in 2008-09 is another example: a worthy home-insulation program turned lethal. So too was Kevin Rudd’s decision to dismantle the Howard government’s Pacific solution: it led to an influx of 50,000 boat people, including 1200 deaths, not to mention diminished public confidence in Australia’s immigration system.
It’s a sound conservative principle: limited, accountable government works best when it is least likely to waste resources, thwart private enterprise, threaten freedom and avoid harmful, unintended consequences. As the founding father of neo-conservatism, Irving Kristol once put it: “The unanticipated consequences of social action are always more important, and usually less agreeable, than the intended consequences.”

'Beyond the pale': Official history of Australia's East Timor operations on ice amid censorship claims

By Michael Koziol
November 10, 2019 — 12.00am
A legacy project of former prime minister Tony Abbott - an exhaustive official history of Australia's military operations in East Timor, Afghanistan and Iraq – is in danger of collapse amid claims that bureaucrats are trying to censor its first volume.
The history of Australia's peacekeeping operations in East Timor was expected to be published two months ago but has been stymied by what sources described as unprecedented resistance from the government, especially Marise Payne's Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.
The Australian War Memorial's official historian Craig Stockings – who is the lead author on the East Timor volume – is said to be "very frustrated" by the delays and major changes demanded by bureaucrats, and threatening to resign.

Meet the man nursing the economy back to health

By Shane Wright
November 8, 2019 — 3.30pm
The federal Treasury has had 19 secretaries since Federation. Among them have been a trained wool classer, a bank clerk and one with a deep desire to save the endangered hairy-nosed wombat.
But the newest addition to this very exclusive club, Steven Kennedy, has a background as far removed from fine-tuning an economy as could be imagined. He is the first Treasury secretary to be a trained nurse.
It is already proving to be a useful background as he heads a department at the centre of bruising political and economic policy debates.
In October, at his first Senate estimates hearing - an occasion when politicians grill public servants for hours - Kennedy was pressed by Labor's Jenny McAllister on what one thing about the economy kept him awake at night.

NSW, Queensland fires: authorities warn of worse to come

Three people have been killed and there are grave fears for at least five others still missing as an unprecedented bushfire crisis plagues New South Wales. At least 35 people...
Welcome to The Weekend Australian’s live coverage of the bushfire emergency in NSW, Queensland and WA. So far three people are dead, several are still missing and more than 150 homes have been lost in NSW alone as authorities warn of worsening conditions into next week.
18 MINUTES AGO | 9am Cooroibah fire continues to rage
A massive bushfire that burned down a house and forced thousands to fleet heir homes continues to rage on Queensland’s Sunshine Coast.
Fifty-five fires were burning in the state on Sunday morning, including the huge fire at Cooroibah, north of Noosa, where an emergency zone remains. One house has been lost at Cooroibah along with three sheds. A firefighter has suffered a broken leg but no lives have been lost or other injuries reported.
The winds and hot and dry conditions that have stoked blazes are set to continue on Sunday, ease on Monday, and worsen onTuesday, challenging crews and people battling to save their homes.
Two other dangerous fires continue at Cobraball and Bungundarra, north of Rockhampton, where residents sought shelter overnightas it was too dangerous to leave.

Royal Commissions And The Like.


Greg Hunt under pressure to fix aged care after 'confronting' royal commission

By Dana McCauley
November 3, 2019 — 4.31pm
Health Minister Greg Hunt has promised a "significant package" of funding for the aged care sector before Christmas, but would not put a figure on the pledge or agree to ban inappropriate use of psychotropic drugs in the same time period.
Mr Hunt told the ABC's Insiders on Sunday the Morrison government would take weeks to consider the royal commission's findings before announcing its response, refusing to commit to delivering enough home-care packages to wipe the 120,000-person waiting list.
He also would not commit to an immediate crackdown on the misuse of psychotropic drugs - known as "chemical restraints" - to sedate residents with dementia, which the report found rendered them "drowsy, unresponsive" and removed "their ability to interact".

Tap family home wealth to fix aged care crisis

The Financial Review’s take on the principles at stake in major domestic and global stories.
Nov 4, 2019 — 12.00am
The abuse, neglect and sub-standard care in Australia’s $18.1 billion aged care system highlighted by the royal commission’s interim report is shameful. But a knee-jerk political cash-splash before Christmas is not a financially sustainable way to ensure that older Australians receive the quality of aged care services that should be expected in such a prosperous, yet ageing society. Instead of ratcheting up government spending again, more of the 1.2 million Australians accessing aged care services – and those to come – should be expected to self-fund more of their care. Older Australians with the housing and other assets to afford it, could draw on this wealth to help pay for the home-based care and support that will let them live safely and independently in their own homes, and stay out of more expensive nursing homes for as long as possible.
In even the best aged care institutions, the basic needs of individuals are always in danger of falling through the cracks, particularly vulnerable residents with major cognitive impairments such as dementia. But imposing new, costly, tick box "safety and quality" standards on the already heavily regulated aged care sector is a flawed fix when overworked staff already spend too much time filling out funding compliance forms instead of caring for residents. Instead, government policy needs to be directed more at keeping the elderly from needing to enter a nursing home.

Australians have earned the right to quality, affordable aged care

By Rachel Lane
November 7, 2019 — 1.58pm
The recent release of the interim report of the royal commission into aged care titled “A Shocking Tale of Neglect" was a scathing account of the appalling state system, the industry and the government.
The commissioners did not make recommendations, however, they identified three key areas where immediate action needs to be taken:
·         Providing more home-care packages to reduce a waiting list
·         Responding to an over-reliance on chemical restraint, where drugs such as antipsychotics and benzodiazepines and psychotropics are used to treat residents
·         Stopping young people with a disability from going into aged care, and removing those already in the system.
Since the report, which showed that 16,000 senior Australians died waiting for a home-care package in the 2017-18 financial year, Prime Minister Scott Morrison has said additional funding will be provided for the scheme “before Christmas”.

It can only get worse for the banks

The forces that have smashed the banks' returns and caused dividends to be slashed are not going away.
Nov 8, 2019 — 7.38pm

Key Points

  • There is strong competition for quality borrowers.
  • The shift away from interest-only loans has cut costs.
  • No one pays the standard variable rate.
  • The average discount is 1.5pc for new owner-occupiers.
Throughout the long-running debate over whether or not Australia's big four banks have been ripping off their customers, the central bank has always provided fiercely independent analysis.
Over the past decade when the banks were talking down their profitability in absolute terms and relative to banks in other countries, the boffins in the bowels of the Reserve Bank in Martin Place were releasing statistics showing the banks were at the top of the global profit tree.

'Enough': Morrison government defends plan to get young people out of aged care

By Judith Ireland
November 9, 2019 — 12.00am
National Disability Insurance Scheme Minister Stuart Robert says existing federal government plans to get younger people out of nursing homes are "enough", despite the aged care royal commission's demand for increased action to address the problem.
The royal commission identified getting younger people out of residential aged care as one of three areas for immediate action, describing it as a "national embarrassment" and "human rights issue".
The federal government released an action plan on younger people in aged care in March, which includes developing specialist housing and stopping young people being sent from hospital to aged care.

Boomers hang on to unsustainable old age

How Australia copes fiscally with an ageing population in the ­coming years needs to be discussed. It is the elephant in the room.
Myriad self-interested commentators line up on a daily basis to argue against change: don’t touch superannuation, don’t change the ­assets test for the pension. Of course the family home must be tax exempt; death duties are the stuff of a socialist state.
Baby boomers at or near retirement age seem to think that as long as the system sees them through the rest of their lives, everything will be OK.
Which isn’t surprising really when you consider their similarly do-nothing obtuse attitude towards younger generations wanting action on climate change.

National Budget Issues.


Elderly in $1m-plus homes raking in $6.3bn in pensions

More than 255,000 pensioners across the nation live on taxpayer-funded incomes while owning homes worth more than $1m.
Retirees living in $1m-plus homes are receiving more than $6.3bn a year in age pension payments, enough to fund income tax cuts that would supercharge economic growth.
More than 255,000 pensioners across the nation, mainly in elite pockets of Sydney and Melbourne, live on taxpayer-funded incomes while owning homes worth more than $1m — a more than twentyfold increase in a decade — according to analysis of social security data by ANU.
Almost 30,000 age pensioners lived in homes worth more than $2m this financial year — two-thirds of them in Sydney and a fifth in Melbourne — receiving $680m in pension payments annually, according to the analysis.

Job ads lowest since January 2017: ANZ

The number of new newspaper and internet job ads fell 1.0 per cent in October, as ANZ's monthly jobs survey continued to point toward a slowdown in employment growth.
The drop in Australian employment ads follows a 0.3 per cent rise in September, ANZ researchers said on Monday, dimming hopes of a recovery in jobs growth.
"Job ads are now at their lowest level since January 2017," ANZ economist Catherine Birch said, setting aside the "holiday-affected May result".
The total number of new ads during the month - 163,083 - was a slide of 11.4 per cent compared with October 2018.

Retail shocker casts pall over RBA's 'gentle turning point'

Robert Guy Senior Writer
Nov 4, 2019 — 3.51pm
Consumers clearly aren't feeling the love of lower taxes and interest rate cuts, with shockingly weak retail sales in September underscoring why the Reserve Bank of Australia will likely pull the trigger on another rate cut.
While Reserve Bank governor Philip Lowe has spoken of a "gentle turning point", that optimistic rhetoric is obviously threatened as households husband their disposable income amid low wages growth and an uneasy feeling that record low interest rates and talk of quantitative easing signal all is not peachy with the economy.
Growth in retail sales of 0.2 per cent in September was not only half the consensus expectation, but the average monthly growth of 0.2 per cent over the past six months is a humbling reminder for the RBA governor and Treasurer Josh Frydenberg as to the impotency – so far – of low and middle-income tax cuts and three interest rate cuts in reviving the animal spirits of shoppers.

RBA agreement is silent on the big issues

There is no mention in the renewed written pact about unconventional tools such as quantitative easing.
John Kehoe Senior Writer
Nov 5, 2019 — 12.00am
The “no change” monetary policy agreement between the Reserve Bank of Australia and the Morrison government is just as notable for the topics it omits as the status quo accord.
Treasurer Josh Frydenberg has given RBA governor Philip Lowe the benefit of the doubt to lift inflation into the 2-3 per cent target band over the medium term.
Frydenberg considered officially hardening up the inflation goal to put more onus on the bank to more immediately achieve its mandate, but ultimately refrained.

'Worrying sign': Retail slumps to worst performance since last recession as jobs weaken

By Shane Wright
November 4, 2019 — 4.51pm
Australians are buying everyday goods at the slowest rate since the 1990-91 recession as signs grow that interest rate reductions and the Morrison government's tax cuts have failed to encourage shoppers to open their wallets.
As a key measure of the employment market pointed to a slowdown in job creation, Australian Bureau of Statistics retail sales data showed a lower-than-expected 0.2 per cent lift in the value of sales through September.
Analysts, the government and the Reserve Bank of Australia have been expecting a strong response to recent interest rate cuts, worth about $3 billion a month in extra household disposable income, and the rollout of $7.2 billion of tax cuts directed at low- and middle-income earners.
Instead, retail sales have flatlined, with the volume of sales falling 0.1 per cent in the September quarter. Volumes have now dropped 0.2 per cent over the past 12 months, the worst annual result since Australia's last recession.

Weak bank lending numbers reveal rate cuts aren't working

Stephen Bartholomeusz
Senior business columnist
November 5, 2019 — 3.46pm
There were a couple of line items in the presentations of the two major banks that have reported over the past week that put into perspective the debate about the Reserve Bank’s rate cuts and the prospect of unconventional monetary policies.
Last week, an ANZ Banking Group presentation revealed the net loans and advances made by its retail and commercial bank in Australia fell from $341 billion last financial year to $332 billion in the year to September. Lending for housing shrank about $8 billion, while commercial lending was flat.
The Reserve Bank has kept interest rates on hold at 0.75% as retail spending flatlines, with people saving rather than spending their recent tax cuts.
On Monday, Westpac also reported flat lending to consumers over the past year but with new lending tailing off towards the end of the year and the run-off of its existing housing loan book out-stripping the value of new loans in the final quarter. Westpac’s business lending was essentially flat through the year.

'Break the emergency glass': Perrottet calls for pro-growth reforms

By Matt Wade and Shane Wright
November 7, 2019 — 5.00am
Treasurer Dominic Perrottet says it is time for state and federal governments to “break the emergency glass” and pursue major structural reforms in a bid to revive economic growth.
Mr Perrottet warned that interest rate reductions and the Morrison government’s recent tax cuts have not delivered the “expected boost”.
"As a six-pack of prime ministers came and went over the past decade, the reform lever gathered dust," he said. "But with current stimulus options failing to stimulate, it’s time to act now to look at ways we can kick start the economy."
Mr Perrottet said improvements to the system of state-federal financial relations and inefficient state taxes should be a key focus for reform.

Trade surplus widens to $7.18 billion

Australia's trade surplus increased to $7.18 billion in September, from an upwardly revised $6.62 billion in August.
Exports were up 3.0 per cent for the month and imports were down 3.0 per cent, the Australian Bureau of Statistics said on Thursday.

RBA downgrades economic growth again

Matthew Cranston Economics correspondent
Nov 8, 2019 — 11.45am
The Reserve Bank has slightly downgraded consumption and economic growth for the fourth time this year blaming persistently weak incomes from the drought, higher taxes and a downturn in investments.
The central bank said it was weighing the "possibility that further easing could unintentionally convey an overly negative view of the economic outlook” and could bring forward the time when it uses unconventional monetary policy.
“The board was mindful that rates were already very low and that each further cut brings closer the point at which other policy options might come into play,” the bank says in Friday's statement of monetary policy.
While the bank said "the outlook for the Australian economy is little
changed since the August Statement" it did change, to varying degrees, the outlook on key measures such as consumption, inflation, dwelling investment and business investment.

The RBA can keep waiting, but our economic problem won't go away

Ross Gittins
Economics Editor
November 9, 2019 — 12.00am
If you don’t like the term "secular stagnation" you can follow former Bank of England governor Mervyn King and say that, since the Great Recession of 2008-09, we’ve entered the Great Stagnation and are "stuck in a low-growth trap".
On Friday we saw the latest instalment of our politicians’ and econocrats’ reluctant admission that we’re in the same boat as the other becalmed advanced economies, with publication of the Reserve Bank’s latest downward revisions of its forecasts for economic growth.
This time last year, the Reserve was expecting real growth in gross domestic product of a ripping 3.2 per cent over the present financial year. Now it’s expecting 2.25 per cent. Even that may prove on the high side.
What their eternal optimism implies is our authorities’ belief that the economy’s weakness is largely "cyclical" – temporary. What the past eight years of downward revisions imply, however, is that the problem is mainly "structural" or, as they used to say a century ago, "secular" – long-lasting.

Health Issues.


Another grim week leaves private health insurance on life support

Despite recent reforms, it remains unaffordable and untransparent. Now some experts question whether it should be saved at all
In April this year, the health minister, Greg Hunt, introduced reforms the government said would make private health insurance easier to understand and more affordable.
The changes, described by the federal government as the most significant reforms to the private health insurance system in a decade, included classifying the some 70,000 private health insurance policies available into gold, silver, bronze and basic categories, and discounts for young people.
A review from the consumer advocacy group Choice published on Wednesday found the opposite. More than 215 “silver” and “silver plus” policies cost more than “gold” policies, the report found, leaving consumers as confused by their options as ever. An Australian Medical Association report published one day later warned private health policies remained unaffordable and non-transparent.
The other cornerstone of the reforms – lower premiums for people under 30 – has failed to stop the exodus of young people from the system, Australian Prudential Regulation Authority [Apra] data shows. The financial authority in May issued a directive to the private health industry to take responsibility for the decline in affordability and uptake of insurance rather than rely on government reforms.

Hospital complications data hidden from the public

By Dana McCauley
November 4, 2019 — 12.01am
Australia's healthcare safety watchdog says "an unacceptable proportion" of hospital admissions are associated with an "adverse event" such as a botched surgery or medication mishap, yet the public is not told where they occur.
In the worst cases, called "sentinel events", patients die or suffer a permanent disability, often due to an error on the part of treating doctors and nurses - such as operating on the wrong person or body part, leaving a surgical instrument behind or transfusing with the wrong blood type.
"In our view, they're wholly preventable," Australian Commission on Safety and Quality in Health Care chief executive Debora Picone told the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.

'Circle of care' model proposed for youth mental health

By Rachel Clun
November 4, 2019 — 5.00am
Young people are not missing out on mental health treatment because of self stigma. They're missing out because the health system is not designed for them, according to a youth mental health expert.
While Australia has a good doorway into mental health treatment for young people in the form of services like Headspace, Professor Ian Hickie said it's when their mental health problems become more complicated that they begin to hit barriers in the system.
"Just this year we published research on several thousand of these people, they're at higher risk of progression to more significant problems yet most only receive small degrees of non-specialised intervention," he said.

Healthcare stocks tipped for strong 2020 as clinical trial results pour in

Yolanda Redrup Reporter
Nov 4, 2019 — 3.38pm
Momentum among stocks in the healthcare sector is tipped to continue in 2020 as a range of small and mid-sized biotech and medical device companies hope for clinical trial results before the year's end.
The healthcare vertical has been the best performer – up 34 per cent – of the ASX 200 indices this calendar year, and the bulk of the gains have come in the second half.
The rise has been led by stocks such as CSL, Cochlear and Nanosonics, putting the sector ahead of other top performers such as IT and consumer discretionary stocks.

Filtering down

Morgans senior analyst Scott Power said the rise in the big stocks was filtering down into the mid and small-cap segment, as investors developed a renewed interest in the life sciences space.
"In this low growth world, if you can deliver good growth, you're being rewarded. The sector is definitely positioned very well for 2020," Mr Power said.

'A cash grab': States declare war with health funds over patients in public hospitals

By Dana McCauley
November 4, 2019 — 7.00pm
State health ministers are demanding a hefty increase to the fee charged to health funds when patients elect to be admitted privately in single rooms at public hospitals, which receive more than $1 billion a year from insurers.
NSW health minister Brad Hazzard took a proposal to last week's COAG health council meeting to set a "minimum rate" more than 70 per cent higher than the current average $432 funds pay for private patients in single rooms, but insurers warn it will drive up the cost of premiums.
Private Healthcare Australia chief executive Rachel David said the funds could not afford to pay a higher rate and that any increase would make it impossible to meet federal Health Minister Greg Hunt's demand of a premium increase of less than 3 per cent for 2020.
"This is really just another cash grab," Dr David said.

A dollar invested in mental health care can return $65 in savings

By Anna Patty
November 4, 2019 — 12.57pm
Every dollar invested in improving mental health in the workplace can create social and economic benefits worth $65, as well as helping employers make savings from reduced sick leave and absenteeism.
New analysis by Urbis and commissioned by the icare Foundation, part of the NSW government's agency icare which oversees insurance and care in the state, found the agency's investment in mental wellbeing programs and research could return cost savings and boost productivity.
A new report claims that mental health issues are taking eight Australian lives a day.
The report, released on Monday, found that for each manager trained in how to help staff with mental health problems, employers could save an average of $10,151 per year in reduced sick leave. An online program delivered by the Black Dog Institute, which provides resilience training to workers in high-risk industries including emergency services, has been used by 33,000 people and was found to provide $12 million in benefits through reduced absenteeism.

Medibank caught by higher than expected claims

Nov 6, 2019 — 9.09am
Private health insurer Medibank has been caught $21 million short after claims in the 2019 financial year increased at a greater rate than originally reported.
In a market announcement on Wednesday morning, Medibank revealed claims growth per policy in 2019 had been 2.4 per cent, not 2 per cent as reported in August.
It said this had resulted in a $21 million under provision from the June 30 2019 claims reserve.
"This when combined with our October claims payments indicates a trend, and we now expect the increase of claims per policy unit in the second half of FY19 to continue throughout FY20," the insurer said in a statement.

Bupa biggest loser in private health exodus

Nov 5, 2019 — 5.15pm
Australia's biggest life insurer, Bupa, lost nearly 80,000 customers of its hospital cover policies last year, making it by far the biggest loser in the ongoing exodus of customers from private health funds.
New figures from the Australian Prudential Regulation Authority (APRA) show Bupa remained the biggest player by customer numbers in the 2018-19 financial year, with almost 3.6 million customers, just ahead of Medibank's 3.54 million.
But the UK-headquartered insurance and healthcare giant's losses in Australia – 50,000 net customer losses across all products, and almost 80,000, or 2 per cent, of its core hospital cover customers – dwarfed those of its main competitors.
ASX-listed Medibank lost just over 16,000 of its hospital cover customers, but overall it made a modest gain of around 6000 customers. Hospital cover makes up around 80 per cent of the total customer base for both insurers.

Medibank CEO warns private health sustainability in jeopardy

Medibank Private chief executive Craig Drummond has warned the entire affordability and sustainability of private healthcare in Australia is in jeopardy as hospital procedure costs run ahead of inflation and insurers face falling returns again this year.
An angry and at times frustrated Mr Drummond, who was forced to issue a warning on Wednesday that Medibank had been stung by higher-than-expected claims since August, said on an investor call that “something didn’t feel right” in hospital and surgical volumes and that the “maths do not work” in the current costs and insurance premiums structure.
The boss of the nation’s biggest health insurer signalled it was time for the government and stakeholders to act to protect the sustainability of the nation’s private health insurance industry, which covers more than 13 million Australians.
Medibank says it is being pushed to offer affordable premiums at the same time as costs it can’t control are growing at double-digit growth rates.

Medibank's cost shock is a sector-wide illness

A surprise jump in private hospital costs at Medibank is a problem for the entire sector, just as negotiations start about next year's premiums.
Nov 6, 2019 — 11.37am
Older, fatter, sicker – and more expensive to treat.
Medibank Private’s surprise warning on rising claims costs is at once a shock for investors, a reminder of the challenging economics of the broader private insurance sector, and ammunition for Medibank and the wider industry as they prepare to submit their annual premium rise requests to the government in the coming weeks.
Shares in Australia’s biggest private health insurer plunged 8 per cent in early trade on Wednesday after it said it had underestimated growth in claims costs for the 2019 financial year that ended on June 30.
The company’s view of the data that was provided to the market at its full-year results announcement in August was that underlying claims costs adjusted for the release of provisions had grown 2 per cent during the 2019 year.
But as the data has come over the last couple of months, it has emerged that claims cost growth was actually 2.4 per cent, meaning Medibank had undercooked its claims provision by $21 million.

Health insurers threaten audit over suspicious sales

Nov 6, 2019 — 5.42pm
Private health insurers are threatening to audit private hospitals' theatre records, following what they say is a suspicious surge in the use of certain prosthetic devices.
Rachel David, head of insurance lobby group Private Healthcare Australia, said she believed manufacturers had been deliberately up-selling ancillary devices to make up for a government-mandated cut in the cost of core prosthetic devices such as knees, hips and pacemakers.
Prosthesis manufacturers categorically denied the allegations, accusing health insurers of using it as an excuse to hike premiums.
The latest eruption of longstanding tensions between insurers and manufacturers came as both Medibank and NIB reported higher than expected claims growth in the 2019. Medibank's share price plunged more than 8 per cent following the announcement. NIB's closed down more than 2 per cent.

Medibank CEO’s plan to fix health insurance

Craig Drummond is on a mission to transform the insurer into a healthcare giant.
Patrick Durkin BOSS Deputy Editor
Nov 8, 2019 — 12.00am
It took just one day for Medibank CEO Craig Drummond to come to grips with the size of the challenge he was facing.
The health insurer was several years into a $150 million IT upgrade – codenamed Project Delphi – when Drummond discovered he had just 14 days to send Medibank’s 3.7 million customers an annual tax statement.
The former NAB CFO was already walking into a public relations maelstrom after the competition watchdog had launched a landmark case against Medibank just two weeks earlier.
“A chap I’d never met walked up to my desk on day two [July 2016] and said ‘You don't know me, but we’ve got a problem’,” Drummond recalls.

Government rejects claims prosthetic reforms have failed

Nov 7, 2019 — 5.50pm
The federal government has rejected claims it has failed to bring the cost of medical prosthetic devices under control, saying its reforms have already succeeded in their end goal of keeping insurance premiums down.
On Wednesday Medibank chief executive Craig Drummond claimed a reform intended to reduce the cost of prostheses had failed to deliver the expected $200 million in  savings across the industry, and premiums would have to rise at a greater rate than expected.
In the face of near stagnant wages growth, private health insurers have been under great pressure as younger consumers downgrade policies or drop coverage all together as they face rising out of pocket costs.
There is increased government pressure to lower growth of premium increases of the private health insurers.

Greg Hunt to consider corporate healthcare

Patrick Durkin BOSS Deputy Editor
Nov 8, 2019 — 12.00am
Health Minister Greg Hunt will consider an industry push for tax breaks to encourage employers to offer private health insurance for workers to avoid the sector's escalating "death spiral".
Medibank CEO Craig Drummond is leading calls for the change and rejected criticism that dropping fringe benefits tax for private health insurance would amount to an Americanisation of healthcare, arguing it would make the system more sustainable.
Mr Drummond, who this week spoke to Mr Hunt about escalating costs, also doubled down on claims of price gouging on prosthetic devices, which Medibank revealed on Wednesday had caused a $21 million cost blow-out.
Total expenditure on three common hip joints in Australia was $64.8 million in 2017, but in France this would have been less than one-third the cost, at $19.6 million, or $39.8 million in the UK, $25 million less than in Australia.

International Issues.


Boris Johnson ahead in polls but his team is nervous

None of the above is always a tempting choice at UK elections, but this year perhaps more than ever.
Camilla Cavendish Contributor
Nov 3, 2019 — 1.27pm
"None of the above" is always a tempting choice at British elections, but this year perhaps more than ever. A weary nation is readying fake smiles to greet Labour MPs who will publicly endorse a leader they privately fear could ruin the country.
They are also gritting their teeth to face Conservatives who have failed to deliver Brexit and ousted many of their independent thinkers. Voters are hoping the Liberal Democrats don’t kick off their campaign debating theological questions on gay sex, as they did last time. Rarely has the nation felt so cynical about politics with so much reason.
The orthodox view is that Boris Johnson is on course to win, with promising poll ratings. His team have always sought an election before Labour has the wit to ditch Jeremy Corbyn, who, they believe, is a soufflĂ© that can’t rise twice. If the Remain opposition parties split the vote, Tory strategists think Johnson may just get his cake and eat it.

The European Union is in crisis mode

Hans van Leeuwen Europe correspondent
Nov 3, 2019 — 4.59pm
London | The European Union is mired in an almost unprecedented cluster of crises, including a paralysed bureaucracy, a deadlock over its future budget, and a meltdown in relations with its eastern members and would-be members.
With the geopolitical spotlight fixed on the Brexit crisis, it’s easy to overlook the creeping sense of disarray engulfing Brussels, which is playing out against ongoing gloom in the bloc’s economic outlook.
The most immediate crisis is how to unlock the member states’ coffers to fund the EU’s 2020-27 budget cycle. Finance ministers will meet in Brussels this week, but little progress is expected after a war of words broke out last week – meaning nobody knows where the EU's funding is going to come from, or when.

Australia has a lot at stake in UK's December election

Alexander Downer Columnist
Nov 4, 2019 — 12.00am
I’m sticking with my prediction of two weeks ago: there’s a 70 per cent chance Boris Johnson will take the UK out of the European Union by late January next year (the new end date) and a 30 per cent chance Jeremy Corbyn and his Labour Party will form government and, in effect, keep the nation in the EU.
You may ask: So what? Maybe it would be better if Britain remained in the EU, maybe it wouldn’t. Either way, I want to convince you that British election on December 12 matters greatly to us.
Let’s start with Brexit. Looking at it from Australia, there’s an argument that we’d be better off with the UK in the EU. We have a powerful like-minded partner in an institution that otherwise would have a passing interest in Australia, would be more protectionist and less globally engaged. For some Australian companies with European operations, there may be some costs resulting from Brexit. They may not be able to trade or transact business from Britain with Europe in the seamless way they can today.

Australia proved Mahathir Mohamad and the handwringers wrong

Peter Hartcher
Political and international editor for The Sydney Morning Herald
November 5, 2019 — 12.02am
First, Singapore's founder, the late Lee Kuan Yew, said in the 1980s that Australians were destined to become the "poor white trash" of Asia. Then Malaysia's long-time prime minister, Mahathir Mohamad, permanently ruled Australia out of participation in Asia: "Actually they are Europeans, they cannot be Asians."
These comments from two of the elder statesmen of south-east Asia, and others like them, sent Australia into decades of hand-wringing, self-doubt, even identity crisis. Australia was fated to be overtaken economically, overlooked culturally, snubbed politically, forever alone, trapped below a continent we could never join. "If you don't behave yourself, you may get invaded," Mahathir said in 2004.
Driving the point home, in the 1990s a Chinese scholar drew on an Aesop's fable to illustrate Australia's plight. In the old fable, the two animal kingdoms, the birds and the beasts, prepare to go to war with each other. The bat hesitates to choose sides. He has some bird characteristics but also some beast characteristics. He decides to commit to neither side. Battle is averted at the last moment. The bat is despised by both sides. Rejected by both kingdoms, the lonely bat delivers the moral of the tale: "Ah, I see now. He that is neither one thing nor the other has no friends." Australia, said Tang Guanghui, writing in a journal of the Chinese Foreign Ministry, was the bat, never truly East or West, destined to forever flit between the two worlds, at home in neither.

Xi Jinping throws support behind Carrie Lam

Michael Smith China Correspondent
Nov 5, 2019 — 2.55pm
Shanghai | China’s president Xi Jinping has formally backed Hong Kong’s embattled leader Carrie Lam during a meeting in Shanghai, ending speculation she was planning to step down after failing to end mass protests which have rocked the city for more than five months.
Chinese state media on Tuesday carried images of Mr Xi shaking hands with a smiling Ms Lam this week. The president was quoted saying he had a “high degree of confidence” in the Hong Kong chief executive, who has been the main target of the protest movement’s anger.
“Xi voiced the central government’s high degree of trust in Lam and full acknowledgement of the work of her and her governance team, the China Daily newspaper said.
Mr Xi was quoted as saying: “Ending violence and chaos and restoring order remain the most important task for Hong Kong at present.”

Investors buying 'dreams' rather than earnings, warns Ray Dalio

Jacob Greber United States Correspondent
Nov 6, 2019 — 5.45am
Washington | Hedge fund titan Ray Dalio says today's easy money settings have left investors chasing pipe-dreams rather than profits, while also worsening drivers of populism on both the political left and right that will eventually rebound on markets.
Investors flush with money are accepting very low returns and "buying dreams rather than earnings", Mr Dalio said on Tuesday (Wednesday AEDT).
"Investors have an abundance of money and then we also don't have much in the way of the trickling down... we do know that we have populism of the left and populism of the right and we're going to come into a period of time where that's going to be more challenging and it will have big effects on the markets."

Asia has taken a stand against economic nationalism

The nationalist, protectionist model for the world is failing already. But RCEP has re-ignited the formula that has made Asia so prosperous, and it's vital for Australia too.
Peter Drysdale Contributor
Nov 6, 2019 — 9.57am
The worldview of populist politicians has been in the ascendancy, characterised by isolationism, protectionism and nationalism. The path to prosperity, they argue, is one where economies are closed. Trade is restricted. Markets are managed. Foreign investment is blocked. Immigrants are expelled. Economic cooperation is for the weak.
The protectionist, isolationist economic model of the populists has been nothing short of a catastrophic failure, associated with a collapse of global confidence and investment that threatens global jobs and growth. Global GDP growth is falling, trade growth has halved since 2017, foreign investment has fallen by almost a third since 2017 and supply chains are unravelling at dangerous speed, threatening a sharp rise in production costs and a sharp fall in already anaemic productivity growth.
The leaders of the ASEAN+6 group—which includes the 10 ASEAN countries plus Australia, China, Japan, South Korea, New Zealand and, hopefully soon, India—are poised to sign the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) agreement, comprehensively rejecting the flawed economic model advocated by political populists.

Anti-Trump fervour seen in suburbs in election

By Dan Balz
November 7, 2019 — 6.25am
Washington: There was mostly bad news for Republicans in Tuesday's elections, but the most concerning of all for party leaders should be the steady march by Democrats in converting suburban America into a political stronghold during the era of US President Donald Trump.
Virginia's dramatic and rapid transition from red to purple to blue is a story of the growing support for Democrats in the suburban areas of the state, particularly around the District of Columbia and Richmond. The apparent defeat of Republican Governor Matt Bevin in Kentucky was powered in part by the strength of support Democrat Andy Beshear attracted in that state's suburban counties.
For the president, the results underscore that his best hope for reelection in 2020 will be to expand the electorate as much as possible in the small-town, rural and exurban areas of the battleground states. Scouring those areas for every vote possible will be the campaign's highest priority.

Brexit: Leaving EU biggest mistake since war claims John Bercow

John Bercow has admitted what most political observers had already deduced: he believes Brexit to be the biggest foreign policy mistake in the post-war period.
The former Speaker of the House of Commons, who stood down from his ten year tenure last Friday shared his personal views about Britain leaving the European Union with a gathering of the Foreign Press Association in London.
“I’m no longer the Speaker”, Mr Bercow said, when asked if Brexit would affect the international standing of the UK, adding, “so I don’t have to remain impartial now.’’
He then continued, in his first public comments since standing down: “But if you ask me honestly, do I think that Brexit is good for our global standing, my honest answer is no I don’t. I think that Brexit is the biggest foreign policy mistake in the post-war period”.
While Speaker, Mr Bercow faced accusations from the Conservatives that he bucked long standing conventions in showing a bias to the Leave side when he gave opposition MPs control of the order paper, which ultimately brought about the Benn Act that prevented a no deal Brexit from occurring.

China cyber threat more perilous than Soviet nukes

The West’s 21st-century competition with China is likely to be more dangerous and more complex­ than its old Cold War with the Soviet Union.
This is partly because China’s economic power makes it a much more formidabl­e and resourceful oppo­n­ent than the Soviet Union, and partly because the technological envir­onment has changed so dramatic­ally in the past generation.
The development of nuclear weapons and intercontinental ballistic missiles shaped the Cold War. The resulting nuclear “balance­ of terror” kept the Cold War cold; neither power was willing­ to risk total annihilation. Arms-control talks became a centrepiece of superpower relations as both sides sought to stabilise the nuclear balance.
The information revolution has brought new dangers to the fore. Cyber weapons can devastate their targets, crashing power grids and transportation networks, paralysing financial systems, and destroying the func­tionality of anything from hospit­als to government offices. The development of these weapons is much harder to control and their use much more difficult to deter.

Xi Jinping's unmistakable message for the US, Australia, on Chinese technology

November 5, 2019 — 5.24pm
Shanghai: Chinese president Xi Jinping has used a keynote address at the Chinese International Import Expo in Shanghai to warn countries that they risk stifling innovation if they fail to remove barriers and "knowledge blockades" preventing cooperation on technology.
His comments came amid a trade war with the United States that has seen a growing list of Chinese technology companies, including China's 5G champion Huawei, hit with US restrictions.
China launched its commercial 5G services last week, but Australia has barred Huawei from its 5G network over security concerns. Britain is expected to allow the company to participate in the development of its 5G network, but that decision has been delayed until after its forthcoming election

The Wall fell, but dogma lives on

Ideological juggernauts that pay little heed to individuals did not end with the fall of the Berlin Wall three decades ago.
Henry Thomson
Nov 9, 2019 — 7.34am
Today marks thirty years since the fall of the Berlin Wall. On the evening of November 9, 1989, Gunter Schabowski, a spokesperson for the East German Politburo, read a hastily prepared statement on live television immediately lifting restrictions on travel to West Germany. Thousands of usually fearful East Berliners immediately flocked to the city’s border crossings, demanding that the bewildered guards let them through.
Schabowski had made a mistake: The Politburo did not intend to open the East German border. Their spokesman was poorly briefed. But the East Berliners could not be stopped, and this mistake led to the dismantling of the wall which had divided Berlin for 38 years and become a poignant symbol of the Cold War.
Along with the rise of China, the end of the USSR and its grip on eastern Europe was the most important event of the post-1945 world. But any reflection now is unlikely to match the euphoria of West and East Berliners embracing on that cold night in 1989.

Europe's overreach delivered us Brexit

Germany’s reunification process and the dramatic collapse of communist regimes in Eastern Europe generated a period of Euro-phoria. It also led to the EU becoming unwieldy and losing its focus, triggering the Brexit imbroglio.
Andrew Clark Senior Writer
Nov 8, 2019 — 11.58am
“Game, set and match for Britain,” victorious British prime minister John Major proclaimed after a December 1991 European Union summit in the Dutch walled city of Maastricht agreed to the creation of a single eurozone currency and a European Central Bank.
As the British prepare to once again effectively vote on whether they want to leave the EU 28 years after the Maastricht summit and 30 years after the collapse of the Berlin Wall, Major’s comment takes on an ironically prophetic tone. It is reminiscent of prime minister Neville Chamberlain’s “peace in our time” proclamation after his September 30, 1938, meeting with Adolf Hitler.
This occurred less than a year before the outbreak of World War II. However, Major’s post-Maastricht remarks were a reference not to the EU’s plan for Economic and Monetary Union, or EMU, but Britain's future right to opt out while remaining an EU member - a course it later took. Now it is contemplating the ultimate opt-out.

Book by 'Anonymous' portrays a presidency on the brink

By Philip Rucker
November 9, 2019 — 3.55am
Washington: Senior Trump administration officials considered resigning en masse last year in a "midnight self-massacre" to sound a public alarm about President Donald Trump's conduct, but rejected the idea because they believed it would further destabilise an already teetering government, according to a new book by an unnamed author.
In A Warning by Anonymous, obtained by The Washington Post ahead of its release, a writer described only as "a senior official in the Trump administration" paints a chilling portrait of the US President as cruel, inept and a danger to the nation he was elected to lead.
The author - who first captured attention in 2018 as the unidentified author of a New York Times opinion column - describes Trump careening from one self-inflicted crisis to the next, "like a twelve-year-old in an air traffic control tower, pushing the buttons of government indiscriminately, indifferent to the planes skidding across the runway and the flights frantically diverting away from the airport."

Michael Bloomberg's presidential bid is almost certainly doomed

By Matthew Knott
November 9, 2019 — 1.32pm
New York: Michael Bloomberg, the billionaire businessman and former New York City mayor, announced in March he would not enter the Democratic Party's presidential primary.
His team of pollsters and strategists had surveyed the political landscape and concluded he had no viable path to the party's nomination.
"I believe I would defeat Donald Trump in a general election," Bloomberg wrote in a column at the time.
"But I am clear-eyed about the difficulty of winning the Democratic nomination in such a crowded field."

Germany marks 30th anniversary of the Berlin Wall's fall

November 10, 2019 — 2.44am
Berlin: Germany celebrated on Saturday the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall that divided East and West Germany, with President Frank-Walter Steinmeier thanking Eastern European neighbours for spurring on the peaceful revolution.
The toppling of the wall, which separated the Communist-ruled East from the capitalist West in Berlin for nearly three decades and became a potent symbol of the Cold War, was followed a year later by the reunification of Germany in 1990.
"Together with our friends, we remember with deep gratitude the events 30 years ago," Steinmeier said during a ceremony at the Bernauer Strasse Berlin Wall Memorial, which was also attended by Chancellor Angela Merkel and heads of state from Poland, Hungary, Slovakia and the Czech Republic.
I look forward to comments on all this!