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The $1 billion loaves and fishes trick that somehow adds up to clean bill of health

Opinion

When is a cut not a cut? When it’s an efficiency dividend. But it’s our front-line health workers picking up the tab, writes Madonna King

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ALP treasury spokesman Cameron Dick’s ability to pull $1 billion out of his hat makes him either a miracle worker or a mighty magician.

And if you don’t believe in the magic of his ‘reappearing dollars’, the entertainment value in his performance was certainly that of a party magician.

Just take this exchange with ABC Brisbane presenter Rebecca Levingston:

Levingston: “Are you cutting a billion dollars from the Queensland health budget?’’

Dick: “No we’re just asking Queensland Health to be efficient, as we have for five years.’’

Levingston: “Define efficient? What does that mean?’’

Dick: “Well it’s activity-based, principally. We want a two per cent productivity dividend.’’

Levingston: “A two per cent productivity dividend doesn’t mean anything to my listeners. How much per year does Queensland Health need to save?’’

Dick: “So if you do 100 endoscopies, we ask Queensland Health to do 102. That’s your efficiency productivity dividend. So for the amount of money we give Health, we ask them to find productivity improvements. Queenslanders haven’t noticed that because we’ve delivered it for five years but the people who have noticed it are the additional two Queenslanders who get serviced through that funding. So there’s no cuts to jobs. No cuts to services.’’

Just an intrusion here. Why ask for a two per cent productivity if it means an extra $1 billion? Why not go for broke and ask for 10 per cent? Imagine what we could do with an extra $5 billion.

But let’s move onto this “efficiency dividend” which has always been a dove in the hat of any government hard up for money.

Introduced by the Hawke government in the 1987, its aim is for public sector entities to do the same amount of work with fewer resources. That helps the government’s bottom line and allows them to argue a cut is not a cut – but a dividend.

Cameron Dick addressed that question when asked by Levingston whether this was a cut, by another name.

“No. No. It’s about additional activity…there won’t be any reduction in staff and there won’t be any reduction in services.’’

Elsewhere, he said there would be no sales or leasing of assets owned by Queenslanders. And no new or increased taxes.

True magic. He’s found an extra $1 billion, and it means no sackings, increased services, no controversial asset sales and no new taxes. He’ll storm home in his seat of Woodridge, but if did get into trouble, he should simply campaign by offering to do the household budget of those in his electorate.

But back to the ALP’s costing … because Levingston was obviously having the same Maths struggle as the rest of us. How would he specifically find this extra $270 million each year for the next four years?

Simple.  Queensland Health, each year, just needs to “find $270 million in additional activity and additional services’’ with the funding he’s already generously given it!

Did our nurses and doctors and public servants in health hear that because the non-Maths analysis of Labor’s election costings doesn’t carry the same magic as Cameron Dick’s numbers.

They need to work harder, which he admits they’ve already been doing for the past five years. Not for extra money. Not because more people are sick. But because Cameron Dick and Labor want to promise a few more things, to hang on to government.

And because it would allow him to hire thousands more health workers.

So why stop at Health? Perhaps we could transfer this efficiency dividend to education too; teachers could keep our children in class until 6pm each night – and that would allow the Government to employ more of them too? That would certainly sew up the parent vote.

Or perhaps we could have more paramedics go to each emergency, and that would allow the government to fund more paramedics – because we all know how deserving that service is of extra funding.

The opportunities are limitless. It just involves us being true believers. Or at least believing in the magic of Santa Claus.

With the LNP set to release its costings today, get yourself a big bucket of popcorn. Can it out-magic Labor?

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