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The Howard Government's record: John Howard and Tony Abbott have neglected our hospitals and health care.

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John Howard and Tony Abbott have

neglected our hospitals and health care


John Howard has never supported our public hospitals.

In 1990 he showed his true colours when he said that it was “ludicrous” for free public hospital care to be provided to all Australians. In that same interview he stated that the two-tiered health system operating when the Coalition lost office in 1983 was “perfectly OK”. 1

The Howard Government’s approach to public hospitals was apparent in the lead up to the signing of the Australian Health Care Agreements in 2003 and in John Howard and Tony Abbott’s rhetoric ever since.

When it was revealed that the Howard Government’s 2003-04 Budget ripped $917 million away from public hospitals, it was not surprising that the States and Territories protested. The State and Territories argued for the funding they had lost and also for progress and commitment on a reform agenda that had been under development with the Commonwealth for some 18 months.

They got neither. John Howard used the threat of financial penalties to force the States and Territories to sign the Agreements. And the reform agenda has only been progressed by the concerted efforts of the States and Territories, with no leadership from the Howard Government.

In the recent debate with Mark Latham, John Howard tried to deny this funding cut:

“Well, this funding cut of $1 billion is a figment of the Labor Party's propaganda machine. There's been a 17 per cent real increase. I don't know how that translates into a $1 billion funding cut.” The Great Debate, 12 September 2004

But John Howard’s own Budget papers put lie to this claim - see pages 54 and 179, Budget paper No. 2, 2003-04.

1 Sydney Morning Herald, 14 March 1990

The Howard Legacy

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More recently John Howard’s Health Minister, Tony Abbott, made it clear that the Howard Government will not be providing any more funds to public hospitals:

“Still, the government is determined to avoid handing over yet more money for the States … the government will not provide public hospitals with any more bloc money.” Tony Abbott, Speech to CEDA, 18 June 2004

These statements mean that we should be seriously concerned about the Howard Government’s future plans for public hospitals.

“I can’t be expected, unless we’re going to wind up the federal system altogether and give power over everything to the Federal Government….I mean, we have given the States more money through the GST.” John Howard, Radio interview on 3AW, 30 July 2004

“There’s this mish mash of responsibilities, nobody can decide whose job it is to oversee it. … the sooner the States are not involved in the health field the better, and if we can move towards a withering away of the States in that area … that’s what we hope to overcome.”

Tony Abbott, Doorstop at Broken Hill, 19 May 2004

The Howard Government’s sham safety net

The failure of the Howard Government to address the crisis in bulk billing and the need to ensure that specialist fees are fair and reasonable has meant that out-of-pocket costs are rising.

These problems can be addressed by investing properly in Medicare. But John Howard has always wanted to destroy Medicare and doesn’t want to fix these problems. Instead he is trying to distract attention from the crisis he has created in Medicare by creating a sham safety net.

Medicare should not be a high-wire act. John Howard has built a sham safety net, full of holes, on the pretence that it will catch people when they fall.

Problems with the sham safety net

■ 95 per cent of Australians receive nothing from the sham safety net

■ A bureaucratic monster

At least $72 million will go to administration costs for the sham safety net.

■ The sham safety net is inflationary

Some doctors will decide to increase fees, falsely believing the sham safety net will protect their patients from additional costs.

■ Unfair outcomes

You have to be $300 or $700 out-of-pocket before you benefit from the sham safety net.

These problems were all predicted by health economists when the sham safety net was first introduced.

The Howard Legacy

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In the 7 months since the sham safety net started in March we have seen these problems arise more and more

■ The safety net is open to scams.

■ The cost of the safety net has blown out to more then twice that predicted.

■ The greatest beneficiaries are those who live in the most well-off areas and visit the most expensive doctors.

The pork barrelling at the heart of this sham safety net is disgraceful. The figures speak for themselves:

■ John Howard’s Bennelong electorate received more safety net payments than the entire state of Tasmania.

■ Brendan Nelson’s blue ribbon Sydney seat of Bradfield received more safety net payments than the entire state of South Australia.

■ Tony Abbott’s blue ribbon Sydney seat of Warringah received more safety net payments than all of the Northern Territory and Tasmania.

■ The 11 seats held by Liberal Party Cabinet Ministers received more safety net payments than the total amount received by Western Australia, South Australia, the Northern Territory, the Australian Capital Territory and Tasmania.

By abandoning a universal health system in favour of the safety net with a $700 starting line, the Howard Government has introduced a public health system with a reverse means tests - the more you earn, the easier it is to access government funded health care.

The result of this reverse means test is that Australia’s wealthiest electorates are receiving the vast majority of very sparse health funds. It is a two-tier health care system.

The Howard Government has introduced a sham safety net that rewards people who can afford the $700 up front fee, and punishes those who can’t.

This is health policy at its worst. Government funds are being used to intentionally introduce an American-style user pays health system.

Tony Abbott says that doctors should be free to charge whatever they want, but has failed to say where the money to pay for the rising costs of the sham safety net will come from.

The additional funds that will be needed (some $600 million) to meet this huge black hole are not budgeted for in the forward estimates. This means the money needed to fill this black hole will be clawed out of other areas of health like Medicare or the PBS.

That is why Labor will abolish the sham safety net and invest in Medicare and public hospital outpatient clinics.

Labor will make sure that all Australians can get the health care they need without large out-of-pocket costs. Health care should go on your Medicare card, not your credit card.

Printed and authorised by Tim Gartrell, 19 National Circuit, Barton ACT 2600