Not since Peter Shack courageously fronted the press in the 1990 election to declare that nope, the Coalition hadn’t got around to developing a health policy and, for that matter, their record in the whole area was none too flash, has the Coalition had such a shocker of a day in health.

Tony Abbott is more sinner than sinned against by a long stretch, but he merits at least some consideration. Liberal headquarters let him down badly with its over-optimistic scheduling, leading to him arriving late for his debate. But, really, so what? We’ve only just finished reading how dull the Treasurers’ debate was. Does it particularly matter if Abbott missed half of the health debate?

Perhaps we can poll the six people who watched and find out what they thought.

And – although an apology was a political necessity – Abbott was absolutely right about Bernie Banton the first time. Like it or not, Federal Ministers should not have to fit their schedules around stunts by activists, even if the relevant activist is terminally ill and espousing a good cause. Particularly not during an election campaign, when time is at a premium.

And lost in the mix was that the Banton petition was for the addition of the drug Alimta to the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme – a decision that isn’t Abbott’s to make. Indeed, Abbott is constantly criticised for interfering too much in independent health assessment processes. What is he supposed to do?

Admittedly, Abbott might have been somewhat more circumspect (a word you wouldn’t normally use about him) in his reaction to all this.

Moreover, there are probably still a few people around – most likely in the Coalition’s Last Bastion, the oldies – who are offended by “sh-t”, and will have been on the phones to complain about both the Chaser and Abbott last night.

The Mersey Hospital delay, however, has a definite touch of Peter Shack about it. The Health Minister might feel aggrieved that it’s Workchoices, not health issues, that has fouled up the transfer. But the Government initiated and controlled that entire process, and also controlled the election timetable, and all for a political purpose. To be caught short three weeks out from election day is a stuff-up of the highest order.

Mersey started off as bad policy. Now it’s being badly implemented. And it’s rapidly becoming bad politics, too. The Government would prefer we forgot all about it.

Remember when it was being hailed as another Howard masterstroke?

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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