Now for the pictures. Well the Liberals have finally got the shadow health minister talking about health. After Opposition Leader Tony Abbott yesterday ordained hospitals as the big coming campaign issue, Peter Dutton this morning has broken his silence. He told ABC Radio that the Federal Opposition is willing to offer bipartisan support for a referendum to overhaul health funding.

Referring to previous indications by Prime Minister Kevin Rudd that he will seek a legal mandate for a federal takeover of the health system if the states do not fix it, Mr Dutton said a referendum could happen at the next election. “We would offer that bipartisan agreement to the Prime Minister for a referendum at this election,” he said. “Then Mr Rudd would be a complete fraud if he rejected that offer.”

The Dutton promise does sit oddly with the declaration by his leader that the role of an Opposition was to oppose rather than help a Government but it does mark a start of Coalition campaigning on an issue that can win it votes. All that has to happen now is for the shadow health minister to realise that it is pictures not words that will make hospitals a winner.

He needs to get out and about in the nation to show case the regular examples of things that go wrong in public hospitals. He could start with a visit to South Australia’s Novita Children’s Services which reported yesterday that waiting lists for wheelchairs, walking frames and other essential equipment for disabled children are poised to blow out, amid claims children are already waiting years. Apparently there are already 400 children waiting for 700 pieces of equipment and a support group says some parents are in “total despair” over the growing problem. A visual display of that would bring the blame game well and truly home to the Prime Minister.

And while in Adelaide why not call in for a chat with the injured prison officer who recently waited five hours for treatment in a public hospital after she was turned away from a private centre contracted by the Government because of overdue bills. The female officer from the Adelaide Women’s Prison was denied treatment for minor head injuries because government bills for $196 from early October had not been paid.

Just the kind of example of why the system does not work with state governments in charge.

A climate change strategy. If Tony Abbott is looking for a way of showing his green credentials without doing anything too complicated he could do worse than start talking about contingency plans for Australia in the likely event that international agreement on climate change is a long time coming. Rather than having a “cut off our nose to spite our face” approach of unilateral carbon reductions, concentrate on the steps that will be necessary to make a warmer Australia as habitable as possible if and when the temperature rises.

Dud forecasts that spring eternal. My quotation of the week:

The overwhelming, plain-as-a-pikestaff economic lesson to be learnt from this year is that economists — whether official, market or media – have no idea what the future holds.

Economics writer Ross Gittins does some truth telling in the Sydney Morning Herald

Peter Fray

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