I’m not talking about the ten assets which have been earmarked by the Commission of Audit earlier this month as potential Commonwealth sell-offs. I honestly couldn’t care less about those at this point in time. I’m referring to our most valuable national asset – our children, and their health.
“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?”
This is the ignorant, arrogant, dismissive way that Treasurer Joe Hockey has defended his budget’s proposed $7 GP co-payment. His comments, quite frankly, made me vomit a little bit in my mouth. Because irrespective of our political persuasions, most of us parents agree that our children’s health is paramount. And when our children are young, they get sick a lot. And during this beautiful season of our lives, many of us are on reduced family incomes, because we are staying home to raise our kids. And some of us don’t smoke, or drink, and guess what? We still don’t always have a spare $7 in the bank at the end of the fortnight. And we still need to have our children seen by a doctor. I’m currently on unpaid leave from work while I care for my youngest, my seven month old daughter. My sons, ages four and two, whom I also stay home with, both suffer from asthma, allergies, and the older one has celiac disease. Throw in the plethora of illness that little kids pick up at the library, the supermarket, daycare, playgroup -the doctor’s surgery’s waiting room- and the doctor’s visits add up. We go about twice a month, on a good month. A bad month could mean six visits. And it’s not for a whinge or for something to do. You think I want to wrangle three kids in a busy waiting room, where the doctor often runs up to an hour late, where illnesses (like whooping cough, which the state government has cut vaccination funding for, increasing community prevalence) are spreading? No, thanks- it’s an absolute necessity. So the visit’s free, because kids under 16 years are bulk-billed. But the prescription meds certainly aren’t free. Asthma preventers, ventolin, equipment (like spacers and masks), antibiotics (for recurring ear infections), reflux medication, cost us a minimum of $100 per month (we don’t qualify for a healthcare card, and I’m down with that- we are lucky to have one good income, luckier than many). Also, I’ll pay whatever I have to in order to have my child be able to breathe through the night, or to save them a trip to children’s emergency because they can’t get a breath during a severe asthma attack and require oxygen. And usually I can juggle a bit to afford the prescriptions during the costly months. So in a bad month (for asthmatic parents this is every month from June to October), that’s $42 a month. Plus scripts. God forbid hubby or I get sick (high likelihood when in the trenches with little sickies at home, and for the breadwinner, at work, too). So what can I buy for $42 a month?
- A box of 90 disposable nappies, which would last my daughter a fortnight because I supplement with cloth nappies to save money.
- Fresh fruit and vegetables to make healthy family meals (including home made baby food) for a month.
- A pair of warm pajamas for each of my children.
- Hire fee for a nebuliser for my boys’ room to assist their breathing (I haven’t afforded this yet, and it doesn’t look like this will be our year, sorry boys).
- Half a tank of fuel which I stretch to last a week.
- A pair of winter shoes and four pairs of socks for each of my two boys.
- 1 1/2 tins of formula if my baby was FF. Thank God breast milk is free and I’m able to feed her.
- If I saved up my $42 for 18 months, I could even afford a $750 Carla Zampatti dress, like the one Mrs Hockey wore on budget night. But, like buying luxuries like beer, a designer dress would probably be considered by you as wasteful, no? Pass the cigars, then.
Now I’m aware there’s a number of people complaining on Facebook and in Letters to the Editor columns about us “young whingers”. To them, my message is this: Many of us young whingers/slackers, have struggled financially to get an education or a trade. We’ve lived on pasta and tomato ketchup, and bowls of cereal with long life milk for up to four years, and scraped together enough money for bus fare while we’ve worked hard to better ourselves. Some of us, despite our best efforts, can’t secure work. Sometimes it’s a contract here, a contract there, with vast involuntary unemployment in between. Thanks Work Choices. Again, I’m very thankful I’ve been blessed with continuous employment, as has my husband. We earn a decent wage. We’re educators now ourselves. We’re teaching the future teachers, doctors, nurses, tradespeople, salespeople, politicians… jet fighter pilots (we’re going to need more of these, I hear). We’re teaching your grandchildren. We’re paying tax, and we’re contributing to our super so that we can reduce our own strain on the government when it comes pension time. I’m not complaining. (As an aside, I’m envisioning myself as a 70-year-old preschool teacher finally on the verge of retirement: What’s your name again? Oh, dear, I’ve forgotten. Be a good darling and fetch me my walking stick, would you? Sitting in this tiny plastic chair has hurt my back. A-choo! I think I’ve wet my incontinence nappy.) Whinger? No, I don’t think so. But we still can’t always afford $7 at the end of a rough fortnight, and it’s our little children who will suffer. And if this is happening to us, what of those who are living below the poverty line? Like the pregnant mum I watched the other day at the Woolworths register, who was deciding whether to put back the bag of oranges or the packet of generic pasta because she couldn’t afford both? (I had the cashier scan her oranges at the beginning of my groceries and handed them to her, thankful that I had enough in my purse to buy my groceries that day, and a bit extra so that her toddler could have fresh fruit like mine could). What happens when her little boy needs to see a doctor? Why aren’t our children, our future, important enough to this Government? Is The Government so tight that it couldn’t have made an exemption for children, who are under 16, to this farce of a system? I mean, they’re bulk-billed, why not extend the gesture for the co-payment? Could the Government not absorb the $7 through Medicare, to help our children access basic, necessary healthcare? If $7 is such a small, nominal amount that it warrants jovial, crude comment from the Treasurer, surely there’s some wriggle room here to invest in
our most important assets our children.