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Labor's lopsided health policy is an embarrassment.

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Media release


The Hon Dr Michael Wooldridge

Minister for Health and Family Services


MW 205/98

10 September 1998




Labor’s health policy does nothing for private health insurance, contains an idea for b onded scholarships which is probably unconstitutional, and offers two new Whitlamesque bureaucracies to give Canberra more power over the State and Territories’ health systems.


By ignoring the urgent need to stabilise health insurance membership, Labor is condemning public hospitals to longer waiting lists as they struggle to cope with the extra demand.


The document released today by Mr Beazley is a farrago of lies, token gestures and grossly underfunded promises — but it is not a health policy. At best it is only half a policy because it has no new ideas to arrest the long-term decline in private health insurance.


It hardly mentions general practice and has no commitment to indexing GP rebates. As a result, bulk-billing could fall under a Beazley Labor Government.


Even for a politician as cynical as Mr Beazley the giant backflips on pharmaceuticals, the private health incentives, the Medicare levy surcharge and GP rebates are breathtaking.


For two and a half years Mr Beazley and Mr Lee have attacked the Coalition’s incentives scheme as a waste of money.


At different times Mr Lee has called it ‘a lemon’, ‘a dud’, a ‘complete and utter flop’ — and worse. He has done everything possible to undermine public confidence in private health insurance.


Today’s backflip is an empty promise with a use-by date of 3 October. If Mr Beazley is elected, this would be his first broken promise.


Labor’s plans were secretly revealed to the ACTU when Mr Beazley met with the union leaders in June this year. According to Mr Beazley’s briefing notes for that meeting:


“Concentrating on public hospitals is a valid reason for not offering any funds to prop up private health insurance and thew (sic) private sector.


Nobody should be under any illusion. Mr Beazley would tear up the incentives, just as Labor scrapped health insurance rebates the minute they were elected in 1983.


The backflip on therapeutic group premiums is just as astounding.


Earlier this year Mr Beazley put his name to a Labor brochure, mailed out in every marginal electorate, attacking our change to the PBS as “unfair and dangerous” and claiming that “battling Australians will be forced to make do with cheaper, less effective and less safe drugs”. This was a shameless attempt to frighten older Australians.


Mr Lee even made the outrageous claim that people could have a heart attack if they changed to a lower priced drug.


Today every Australian knows that Labor’s dishonest and cynical scare campaign is not backed up with any commitment.


Mr Beazley should now apologise for his attempt to create anxiety and fear among older Australians.


Other specific elements of Labor’s half-policy are fundamentally flawed:


·  The Rural Doctor Placement Scholarships are probably unconstitutional due to the limitation in Section 51 preventing “civil conscription” doctors. If it passes this major constitutional hurdle and is upheld by the High Court (it will inevitably be challenged by some medical group), this measure is woefully underfunded.


·  The $3 million for anti-drug measures is a joke compared to the $215 million we have invested in the “Tough On Drugs” strategy. Given that Labor’s hospital funding is dependent on tobacco excise, you also have to ask if Labor would really try to stamp out smoking in the community.


·  There is virtually nothing new in public health programs, although it is nice to see that Labor finally recognises the importance of immunisation — an area of appalling neglect in their 13 years in office.


·  The Australian Hospitals Commission and the Office of Rural Health are a return to the mega-bureaucracies of the Whitlam years, would be loaded up with Labor’s mates, and would impose ever-greater controls over the State and Territories’ public hospitals and the medical profession.


·  The vague commitment on Medicare offices is meaningless unless Labor releases a list of locations, so that 148 Labor candidates can’t each promise their electorates one of only 30 offices. Labor should also promise not to axe the 600 Medicare easyclaim facilities to fund this promise.


·  The document is totally silent on most of the long-term changes reshaping medicine including quality and safety, best practice, community care, coordination of chronic illness, evidence based medicine, medical research and strategies to improvement management of cancer, heart disease, diabetes and other priorities diseases.


Australia cannot afford to entrust health to a party that simply offers a lopsided approach that will actually increase the pressure on public hospitals.


Media contact: Bill Royce, Dr Wooldridge’s office, (03) 9563 4073 or 0412 137 699