Yesterday I said I’d post about national politics if anything happened to change my tentative intention to vote Labor at the forthcoming federal election. But I didn’t expect that to happen within 24 hours.
Last Sunday I watched Laurie Oakes interview Health Minister Tony Abbott about apparent ALP plans to reform Australia’s health care system by “pooling” federal and state funds and using them more efficiently. Oakes appeared to demonstrate pretty effectively that Abbott was just engaging in a typical pre-election fear and misinformation campaign, by claiming that Labor was intending to vest control of health care in an “unelected, unaccountable, undemocratic body runs the system in the same way the national health service in Britain is administered.”
Manifestly that wasn’t what they were proposing at all. The Australian Health Reform Commission announced by Opposition Health Minister Julia Gillard was just intended as a transitional and investigatory body. However, Tony Abbott comprehensively botched his attack on Labor’s proposal. It’s actually even more iniquitous than Abbott suggested, but Abbott’s presentation successfully obscured that fact (at least for this armadillo). Fortunately Oakes himself, having had his little bit of fun at Abbott’s expense, has explained the real issue as he sees it in his column in this week’s Bulletin:
While he might have botched the execution, Abbott is onto something. Gillard says she is planning dramatic changes to the way Australia’s health system is funded and administered. She told the Press Club last October that Labor was prepared to “take on the challenge of real reform”. Within a year of the election of a Labor government, “significant reforms” would be in place. Labor would “rebuild Medicare”. What is startling is that Australians are not to be told what these radical reforms are before they vote. They are expected to approve the rebuilding of Medicare without knowing the details of how it is to be rebuilt.
According to Gillard, to achieve a unified national health system, the money the federal government provides through Medicare, the PBS, nursing home subsidies and the Health Care Agreement would be pooled with funds the states now spend on hospitals and other health programs. The combined pool “would then be applied to the population’s health needs” but she does not say how. That and other issues would be determined by a summit organised by the National Health Reform Commission in the first three months of a Labor government. Federal and state ministers, heads of major statutory authorities in the health area, and representatives of hospital and health services managers, consumers, doctors, health unions and the private health sector would attend to draw up “an action agenda for reform of the health system”.
Gillard speculates about the possibility of some of the money being put into “a regionally administered pool”. She talks about projects involving “the cashing out of MBS and PBS to help provide services”. There are references to removing “artificial barriers between different categories of funding”. But to know exactly what is to happen to understand the shape of the rebuilt Medicare we would have to wait for the outcome of the summit. And the major reforms arising from the summit and given the imprimatur of the reform commission would be put in place a good two years before Australians have an opportunity to express an opinion through the ballot box. With Medicare pretty much a political sacred cow, Australians are likely to be alarmed if they wake up to the fact that Labor wants approval to make radical changes to the health system without saying what those changes would be. If Abbott succeeded in getting that message out, the election might not be so close after all.
If Oakes’ explanation of Labor’s position (or rather non-position) is accurate, this is an outrageous anti-democratic assault, fundamentally dishonest and contemptuous of the basic rights of Australian voters. There is no way in the world I’ll be voting for a party that promises to make sweeping fundamental changes to Australia’s health care system, but won’t tell voters what they are until after it’s elected!!!
Not even John Howard would try a scam as breathtaking as this one. I won’t write the ALP a blank cheque. Hopefully other swinging voters will feel the same, and send an unequivocal message to Latham that he’d better come clean about his party’s policies without further delay. Looks like I’ll be voting for that fuckwit Dave Tollner after all.