You’d almost think Nick Minchin is on a performance bonus, such is his zeal for flogging off whatever government assets are left. Or maybe it’s just that the enthusiasm of the investment bankers he mixes with is infectious.

Whatever the case, the Medibank Private float is now officially in deep trouble: Alan Jones doesn’t like it. Neither does the AMA, but in the political scale of things, the Parrot counts for much more.

Jones played a key role as the lightning rod for the anti-Snowy privatisation push and looks set to revive that role on a bigger stage with the health insurance fund. The Parrot has bought the line that Medibank’s reserves have been built on members’ contributions and thus it belongs to its members, not the Government.

“So surely, if the thing is to be sold, its members are morally entitled to the assets of the fund,” says Jones. “Or, put another way, if the fund gets no government money, why should there be a massive financial benefit to the Government when it’s sold?”

Nick Minchin can see a couple of billion reasons why the government should benefit and the investment bankers and consultants can almost taste a sweet percentage of that – but the more Medibank Private’s 2.8 million members hear that they really own what Nick’s trying to sell, the less politically possible it becomes.

Medibank becomes another test of the government’s integrity. If it really can’t philosophically handle owning a health insurer, it can mutualise it for existing members – but I suspect Howard and Minchin don’t much like mutuals either, never mind the money they could put to use before the next election.

And talking of Liberal leaders, former NSW Opposition leader and current Manchester Unity CEO John Brogden turned up on Sky Business Report last night to talk about the Medibank issue. Too bad he still sounded like a Tory politician rather than someone running a mutual health fund. Brogden sat on the fence, having a bet all ways on Medibank, instead of deciding what outcome would be best for his members and pushing it.

Peter Fray

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