If you drive around Brisbane at the moment, you can’t miss huge billboards strategically placed in marginal seats with Peter Beattie smiling at you. Because business support for the Libs’ fundraising efforts has been half-hearted to put it mildly, there aren’t too many Coalition billboards. But one on Ann Street in the Valley features a larger than life Bruce Flegg and the slogan “We want real doctors, not spin doctors”.

Therein lies the rub. Health is one issue on which Beattie should be vulnerable. But the Coalition’s election material relies on platitudes suggesting that the election of a National/Liberal government will instantly see doctors and nurses flock to work for Queensland Health.

The online focus group research Graham Young and I have conducted for The National Forum suggests voters aren’t buying this line. Both Beattie and Flegg have made big ticket promises on health. Voters are sceptical of both. While the Coalition relies on motherhood style claims that local community hospital boards would have somehow prevented the Dr Death scandal, voters have a much more sophisticated take on the issues.

It’s clear to participants in our research that population growth and workforce shortages are the core of the hospitals crisis. Beattie has also successfully convinced many voters that Federal policy — including a paucity of medical school places and the decline of bulk-billing and support for private health — has accelerated the problems. Promising in tried and true National style to build shiny new hospitals everywhere doesn’t cut the mustard when many voters are aware that existing wards are being closed or scaled down because of a shortage of staff.

While many Liberal voters in particular in our second focus group gave Flegg marks for his medical qualifications, his business experience was viewed as more important to managing health. The Coalition promises to put doctors back in charge of hospitals. But again it doesn’t take much insight to realise that doctors aren’t necessarily the best administrators. Particularly when some of the despised high profile “bureaucrats” from Queensland Health who covered up Dr Death were themselves medical doctors.

The Queensland electorate, more sophisticated in its understanding of health issues than pollies and the media credit, deserves a better debate on health than pie in the sky promises and the tabloid reporting of the crisis in the Courier-Mail.

Peter Fray

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