Liberals at last seeing the light about health as their election issue? I have been puzzled for months now why the Liberals have not been basing their attacks on the Rudd government around health policy. It is, as I have written several times in Crikey, (see here) one of those glorious issues on which an Opposition cannot lose.

The evidence of things going wrong keeps popping up everywhere. Kevin Rudd exploited that magnificently in his election campaign to win office which has now left him even more vulnerable to criticism than was the administration of John Howard. The Labor promise to fix the problems — to end the blame game — was clear and unequivocal but so far there has been little action that voters would consider has made an improvement.

Consider this list of stories from just the last week and the opportunities they should have presented to the Opposition:

Monday December 14:

  • Medicare changes fall short: GPs — A revamp of Medicare payments for doctors aimed at discouraging revolving door medicine gives them a sweetener of less than $2 to consult with patients longer. But the changes will still mean doctors can earn more than the long consultation rate by churning through more patients — The Age

Sunday December 13:

  • Frustrated surgeons at SCGH walk out — One third of the general surgery team at WA’s biggest hospital are so disgruntled they have either quit or are poised to resign, frustrated medicos revealed last night — Perth Sunday Times

Saturday December 12:

  • Hospitals’ grave mistakes — More than 50 ”catastrophic” mistakes were made in Victorian hospitals in the past year, including 21 operations on the wrong body part or even on the wrong patient — The Age

Friday December 11:

  • Private health fees tipped for $200 rise — Health funds are expected to press for premium rises of $200 a year for a typical family policy, in a move expected to exacerbate tensions between the federal government and private health in an election year — Sydney Morning Herald
  • Four-year wait on Rudd’s clinics — Taxpayers will have to wait until late in 2011 before Kevin Rudd delivers his promised 35 GP super clinics across the nation to augment medical services — The Australian
  • PET scan priority for Coalition — Townsville has been promised a life-saving Positron Emission Tomography (PET) scanner if Tony Abbott and the Coalition take government — Townsville Bulletin

Thursday December 10:

  • Private hospital plan to wipe elective surgery lists — Elective surgery waiting lists could be wiped out within 12 months under a new plan being considered by the Federal Government. Private hospitals are offering to perform 323,000 elective surgery operations if the Government pays — Sydney Daily Telegraph
  • Animal transplants imminent — Australia has lifted its five-year ban on the transplantation of animal cells and organs into humans, allowing hospitals to use pig cells to treat diabetes, Parkinson’s disease and strokes within months – Sydney Morning Herald
  • Rudd fails to deliver on 35 GP super clinics — Kevin Rudd’s promise to build 35 GP super clinics across the nation appears to be in tatters, with only one completed centre in operation after two years of Labor government — The Australian
  • Super clinic not quite there yet — Federal Health Minister Nicola Roxon calls the medical centre at Woongarrah on the NSW central coast a “super clinic” but the nurse who actually runs the facility begs to differ — The Australian

Wednesday December 9:

  • Rudd heaps praise but doesn’t deliver – Prime Minister Minister Kevin Rudd acknowledged Townsville’s status as the capital of northern Australia but gave little if any new commitments to furthering that future in a speech to an historic community cabinet meeting in the city last night. — Townsville Bulletin


Tuesday December 8:

  • Further delays for health overhaul — The Federal Government’s health deadline has been pushed back another few months. The Government now says it will not make a decision on the future of Australia’s health system until the first half of next year — ABC News
  • COAG meeting puts off health reform decision until 2010 — Kevin Rudd has defended the slow progress he and state leaders are making in fixing the nation’s crumbling hospital system — Brisbane Courier Mail
  • Queensland health shame as miscarriages ignored — Hospital horror stories in the Brisbane Courier Mail
  • PM finds extra cash for hospitals — Kevin Rudd has defended his lack of decision on a takeover of the public hospital system if it was not fixed by mid-2009, but has found more money for the country’s ailing state-run system — Adelaide Advertiser
  • Patience wears thin on health reforms — Peak health groups have demanded Kevin Rudd stop talking and act on improving the nation’s health system, flatly declaring he is taking too long to decide how to reform the troubled sector — The Australian
  • Hospitals accused of rorting Medicare — Two Melbourne hospitals have been accused of exploiting Medicare by shifting millions of dollars worth of patient scans and diagnostic tests on to the Commonwealth — The Age
  • Three-year wait to treat doctor, nurse shortages — Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has warned of looming ”stark” shortages of doctors and nurses in Australia but has defended the three years it will take to produce a health reform plan — The Age

Only one of those stories has been exploited by the Opposition. Liberal leader Tony Abbott on a visit to Townsville just after the PM did promise to provide the city with a PET scanner.

Perhaps his team learned something from the favourable reception to that effort for there have been a couple of stories in the Murdoch press — one by Dennis Shanahan and the other by Glenn Milne — suggesting that health and hospitals are about to be featured at last.

Clever ad placement. I am too polite to make any banana jokes about Gail Kelly for we should not kick bankers when they are down but her competitors at the National Australia Bank are not being as considerate as this ad placement from the weekend shows:


Not too polite to hit them with a hammer. An English amusement park proprietor is doing good business with this new arcade game:


On a more serious level the London Sunday Times reports that the British Labour Party has improved its position in the opinion polls since announcing a punitive tax on bonuses paid to bankers.

Don’t let a few months spoil a good story. If it’s good enough for the BBC then it’s good enough for me. “Stoned wallabies make crop circles” tops this morning’s list of most shared stories on the BBC News website and is in the top 10 most read stories as well. “The one interesting bit that I found recently in one of my briefs on the poppy industry was that we have a problem with wallabies entering poppy fields, getting as high as a kite and going around in circles,” the Tasmanian Attorney-General Lara Giddings is reported telling a parliamentary committee. “Then they crash,” she added. “We see crop circles in the poppy industry from wallabies that are high.”

What embarrassed me about this yarn was not the damage done to the reputation of my old home state by these stoned marsupials but that it took the BBC to draw it to me attention. I apologise to those readers of my morning media blog for failing to pick up the original report in the Hobart Mercury of 25 June this year which the BBC plagiarised (without attribution, the naughty people).


Peter Fray

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