Hedley Thomas has a worthwhile story  in today’s Australian on rogue surgeon Jayant “Dr Death” Patel, but spoils the good work by beating it up and stretching the yarn one step too far. Thomas says that the Beattie Government’s failure to do a deal with Patel in June to bring him back to Australia exposes “the Government to charges that it blocked the deal for political reasons” to do with the timing of the (then) looming state election, held on September 9. The inference is that having Patel back in Queensland before the election would have been political poison because it would be a reminder of the whole health scandal and therefore the deal was “blocked”. Twaddle.  There may have been some political negatives, but many more positives. Imagine the triumphant Beattie press conference announcing Patel’s return, followed by pictures of the rogue surgeon in cuffs heading for court (the camera crews having been tipped off about the photo opp by the Premier’s press office.) And after that, nothing. Apart, that is, from more court appearances (more positive reminders of the Government getting its man) as the case slowly made its way through the justice system — setting hearing dates, procedural matters. Yes, the committal hearing and trial might have brought some bad news with evidence about the grisly deaths suffered by patients and reminders of how the health system failed — when they finally got underway. But when would that have been? Chances are the committal would not yet have started — well after Beattie’s thumping election win — with the trial set down perhaps for late next year, or early 2008, if things moved quickly. And with Patel before the courts, it would have made it harder for the media and opposition to raise the Bundaberg hospital scandal because sub judice rules would have applied, thereby shutting down some negative debate. As always, “just the facts ma’am” would have made for a better story.

Peter Fray

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