The pressure of the election campaign appears to be undermining Health Minister Tony Abbott’s better judgment. Banton and the debate fiasco are front of mind this morning, but mainland readers might not have heard of another apology issued by Mr Abbott earlier this week. And it’s related to the Mersey hospital takeover fiasco.

Although in “caretaker mode”, and although the Tasmanian Health Minister Lara Giddings had received advice from the Solicitor General showing that the takeover set down for today breaches state law, Prime Minister John Howard stepped in and decreed that the staff at the hospital will be Commonwealth employees as of 1 November, “on precisely the same terms and conditions as they currently have from the State Government”, according to ABC News. We now have Government by Prime Ministerial Decree in Tasmania.

Which brings us back to Mr Abbott and an unedifying brawl that played out on ABC Radio talkback on Tuesday morning with Lara Giddings. It was neatly summarized in the editorial of yesterday’s Advocate:

“You’re a liar,” Abbott said to Giddings.

“Am not,” she replied.

“Are too,” came the reply.

“You’re not cooperating with us”, the State girl said.

“Yes, we are – it’s you who isn’t,” the Fed man shot back.

Giddings then said: “I’ve learned over the years that when a politician gets down to this level of personal abuse, you know they’re in trouble.”

Abbott has apparently apologized, which is just as well. The politicians are in trouble — the editorial continues:

The people of Devonport and surrounds just want their hospital and both the Labor and Liberal Parties are in danger of putting an entire electorate offside.

Today’s Advocate editorial adds:

What this episode shows is the Federal Government’s attitude was to seize the Mersey and worry about the detail later. It never consulted its own health department, bothered to find out how much it would cost, or tell the State Government about its plans … the ad hoc, often chaotic way this thing has been handled at times by the Feds smacks of political expediency of the worst kind.

How true! It may be that private enterprise and the unions will do a better job of improving health services in the electorate.

High level representatives of mining company Zinifex and the Australian Workers Union have “indicated to the Premier that we’re happy to explore ways of contributing to the provision of health services for Rosebery (on the West Coast).”

The Tasmanian Medical Council now says it would be impossible to supervise the Overseas Trained Doctors (OTDs) at the Mersey under the conditions noted above. There are 214 OTDs in Tasmania, about three at the Mersey.

Tony Abbott issued a statement to say that he first heard about this on Tuesday afternoon, but then he’s got an appalling track record on seeking advice.

He’s in town today and with nothing for John Howard to announce (more forward planning than getting to the National Press Club) they’ve been forced to cancel plans to officially mark the takeover. Meanwhile, the hospital will be run by the State and funded by the Feds.

And yet local Liberal Member Mark Baker (margin 1%), whose Health website is still “Under Construction”, had the gall to say on ABC Radio this morning: “We’re putting people before politics.”

To read more of Mike Walker’s observations from Braddon, click here for the Citizen Crikey homepage

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
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