Crikey’s resident expert on divide and conquer politics, Wendy Wedge, has an excellent take on how the PM is really taking control of the health agenda for his third term.

Admittedly the control on Ministerial incompetence, rorting the system, disregard of parliamentary traditions and standards and the pre-election Budget surplus was not that hot but then these bagatelles are far less important than seizing and exercising power.

Since his brilliant victory over the hapless Kim that control is becoming tighter than ever never better illustrated than the elevation of Jane Halton to head the Department of Health and Aged Care.

Ms Halton is the sort of woman who won’t have to write her autobiography. Stella Rimington has written it for her already detailing how that dear lady rose and rose and rose by seizing on the right issues and the right mentors. Crikey, of course, concedes that ferocious competence helped as well, as we are keenly aware that Ms Halton is a brilliant, inspired, dedicated and totally meritorious choice for her job.

And if you don’t choose the right issue just make sure that history treats you well by ensuring that you get the right guernsey in it.

In Ms Rimington’s case she chose the right issue terrorism and used it to build her career and win famous inter-agency victories against Special Branch and others. The victories against bin Laden were less notable but then not as much energy went into them.

In Ms Halton’s case the story is less earth-shattering but very interesting.

Like Ms Rimington she’s a Mum and given the Howard government’s attitude to discrimination we ought to celebrate her promotion for that alone. Morover, many insiders in DHAC and the health industry swear by her abilities. But there are other views.

She drove aged care policy under the direction of another public servant, Mary Murnane, who is now working for her. This was the policy remember, that lost my hero the financial and moral support of that great Australian business leader and philanthropist Mr Moran. She moved out of aged care before the disaster hit for the government and long before Bronnie Bishop took the rap. (Please no emails we know full well that with Bronnie any injustice is just.) The Cabinet bears much of the responsibility by convincing itself that its new age care policy take the anticipated inherited home away from the aspirational classes to fund nursing home care was such good policy that it wouldn’t even have to be sold, but Ms Halton still had a role.

She also claimed credit, in an interview with The Australian, for the private health insurance policy although her involvement apparently was with the first scheme, PHIS, which turned out to be an absolute fizzer.

But her real break was to be promoted to a Dep Sec’s position in PM&C where she was responsible for two policies which still leave Wendy gasping in admiration our hero Howard’s policies on MV Tampa and reconciliation.

Now she’s back at DHAC with the blessing of both the PM and Max the Axe, his departmental head.

It would disappoint Wendy if Howard had consulted with new Health Minister, Kay Patterson, about the choice. He may not have consulted with the person he offered the job to first, Ho Chi Minchin, either. Wendy, needless to say, would have welcomed Ho Chi Minchin in the health job as he privatised the system and sent her Mayne’s share soaring but sadly it was not to be.

He may also not have consulted her quite properly of course about her COS, Dr Barbara Hayes, whose brilliance had already been recognised by Arfur Sindonis in the PM’s office. Incidentally, that’s another thing in Wendy’s hero’s favour, there is no nonsense about Ministers appointing their own staff. The Star Chamber group within the PM’s office makes sure that only the right sort of people get to advise the right sort of Ministers.

Nor about the strong suggestion that John Perrin from his office is also on the way to DHAC as a Dep Sec.

So what can we expect from the PM’s new team on the health front.

First, we might see former Minister, Michael Wooldridge’s, silly insistence on bleeding heart policies on AIDS and drugs finally thrown out the window.

The inimitable touch and sensitivity we saw with Tampa and reconciliation will be just the shot for both policy areas.

AIDS sufferers will probably be buggered as will druggies after they justifiably get locked up for just not saying no.

Second, we will see a new Medicare agreement due in 18 months with negotiations due to start any time.

The problem with Medicare of course is that people like it even though Mayne’s and other don’t. We’ll see the AMA back on the inside after silly Michael did so much to stop them skewing the system to their own selfish interests (sorry, we mean being properly rewarded and remunerated for altruistic service to the public).

The other problem is that all those awful State and Terrritory Labor Governments are going to make one hell of a stink about hospitals and health funding, not realising that the Feds need to get back some of that money they were forced to throw at motorists and the bush before the election to shore up the surplus now.

If they would only realise that there are policies which would solve their problems.

The States could just refuse to process all those patients trying to get into the queue for healthcare and send them off somewhere else. The Blair Government is doing it already by encouraging the sick to take themselves off to Europe, presumably to places like Lourdes, to be cured.

Then they could have some practical reconciliation by coming together to remove the historic injustices that private healthcare provider shareholders have suffered ,and by replacing the white angel view of medical history with the blue chip version.

Indeed, it makes you wonder whether young Michael wasn’t being a touch disingenuous about getting out to spend more time with the family and his wine collection.

Perhaps Michael saw the new policy approach approaching?

Meanwhile, his old press secretary Serena Williams will keep spinning away for Mayne.

Feedback direct to Wendy at [email protected]

Peter Fray

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