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Victoria

Apr 15, 2010

Ted Baillieu is the real winner of the health debate

John Brumby's recalcitrance on health reform has led to some unexpected scrutiny of his own health record -- and it's not pretty. Opposition leader Ted Baillieu must be unable to believe his luck.

If you’re politician running a distraction, it’s not a bad idea to make sure the distraction doesn’t end up biting you. Now John Brumby’s high-profile opposition to the federal government’s health and hospitals has started to focus attention on his own hospital system, which until recently was regarded among most non-expert commentators as the nation’s best or close to it.

That was until the Daily Telegraph’s Sue Dunlevy stood up yesterday at the Press Club after Brumby’s address and produced a strong candidate for best press question of the year.

Mr Brumby, Sue Dunlevy from the Daily Telegraph. You’re saying today —  the title of your address is “putting patients first”. But it’s not something that you’re doing in your own hospital system. Victoria’s hospitals see fewer emergency and elective surgery patients within the recommended time than hospitals in New South Wales. You spend $123 less per patient than New South Wales. Your hospital system provides fewer beds per thousand people than New South Wales. And your hospital performance has been going backwards for five years. Why should you be regarded as some kind of authority on health? And why should patients in other states have to put up with a second-rate system because someone who can’t run his own health system is behaving like a bully?

A rattled Brumby immediately suggested Dunlevy had been given the question, then struggled to respond, falling back on suggesting that regardless of the indicators Dunlevy quoted, it was outcomes that were important.  The Australian’s health editor Adam Cresswell explored Victoria’s performance more this morning. And the Prime Minister today began suggesting what government sources have previously mentioned off the record, that Victoria’s record might not be all it’s cracked up to be.

Ted Baillieu must be unable to believe his luck, watching federal Labor prepare a nice package of attack lines for him to use in the Victorian election in November.

Brumby’s Press Club presentation was a weird exercise in mutually incompatible statements.  He was insistent that he was looking forward to the COAG discussions and was being positive, yet he spent most of his speech outlining why the federal government’s plan was fundamentally unworkable. His own counter offer amounted to nothing more than a demand for large sums of extra Commonwealth funding in exchange for Victoria continuing to do what it is doing now. Indeed, part of Brumby’s response to Dunlevy’s question was to insist any problems in the Victorian health system were the consequence of insufficient Commonwealth funding.

Mike Rann is right to compare Brumby’s performance on this with his performance on the Murray-Darling Basin. In that instance, Rudd caved in and rewarded Brumby’s intransigence, giving him substantial extra funding for water irrigation infrastructure in exchange for a vague commitment to remove the 4% water trading cap sometime in the distant future. Now Brumby is trying exactly the same tactic on health, while spinning furiously to distract from his state political problems.

Hopefully Rudd learnt from his experience with the Murray-Darling Basin. If you’re going to bribe a Premier, you get their commitment to real reform signed in blood first.

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22 thoughts on “Ted Baillieu is the real winner of the health debate

  1. William Schild

    It was a cracker of a question by Dunlevy and it came after some rather benign cheer leading questions from the Victorian journalists so a comfortable Brumby really did look like a bunny in the spotlight. His response reminded me of a Bjelke – Petersen era politician as he channelled his inner Joh and went on the front foot to blame Canberra for not seeing that Victoria is gods own when it comes to health care.
    Pure comedy. It will be interesting to see how it plays out in the Victorian election.

  2. david

    It would appear the Vic Premier is burning more bridges than he is building. When it comes to the showdown next Monday, my money is on the PM.

  3. David Hand

    To paraphrase Dunlevy “Why should an incompetent bully like you expect other states like NSW to suffer your bottom ranked health service?’ Sounds more like a Today Tonight question to me, merely showing that the tabloid press is not a lot different to the tabloid television. But as Keane et al have committed all their intellectual effort to the re-election of the Rudd government, it’s understandable that he should so admire it. Pity that Brumby is actually right and a pity that showing him to be so will harm Rudd.

  4. John

    What Brumby is doing is called – this is the technical term, so try to stay with us you lay people – “haggling”.

    It’s what you do in negotiations to try and get the best deal possible. As a Victorian it is what I would expect from my Premier regardless of which party they and the person they are negotiating with are from. Perhaps Ms Dunlevy would be better off asking her own Premier why are you not fighting harder for a better deal like John Brumby is?

    He’s not being a bully, he’s getting the best deal for his constituents. He owes the other states nothing – they don’t pay his wages.

  5. davidk

    I agree with you David. Brumby seems to think he can sweet talk us with tales of his once ailing daughter then bully his way to more cash once again. I think Rudd’s political skills are a tad more sophisticated. He ain’t finished yet.

  6. Rush Limbugh

    Sue’s question was obviously planted, but that aside, Victoria still ranks higher than other states in nearly every other indicator, she simply pointed to a few places they were not the best.

    I’m sure John Brumby never came out and said “In every single health indicator, my state is the best”. Im sure his views of his health system are broad based comparisons.

    If he was smarter he would have broken down the question, attacked the reporter for making statements and running agenda’s then challened the reporter to find a statement he made when he said “In every single health indicator, my state is the best”.

    Reporter was obviously a Rudd cocksucker.

  7. Richard Wilson

    To me this whole debate is fairly simple. The further away the people are from the lawmakers, the greater are the problems and the lesser is the accountability. Every time the Feds get involved with anything they just mess it up on a national scale, as opposed to statewide. Worse, they are too far away for us to turn up on the doorstep and complain vigorously.

    Things started to go wrong with health once the federal Govt. got involved. Massive bureaucracies appeared followed by huge overspending followed thereafter by cutbacks and shortages and by then no one was accountable because it was always the other guy’s fault. Now we have a new system proposed whereby accountability will be even harder to track down because decision making is going to be a 50/50 relationship. “It was you idea!”
    “But you were the one who messed it up!” I can hear it already.

    And you can be sure we will end up with an even bigger bureaucracy in Canberra than all of the states put together. Its primary role will be to make sure that whatever goes wrong cannot be sheeted back to the federal Govt. This is what has happened everywhere else in the English speaking world so why wouldn’t it happen here. Ironically they talk about our system as the most workable of all.

    The federal Govt. – and I am not singling out either side; every Govt. has proven it can make a mess of anything the long suffering public allows it to get its sticky fingers into from defence over-runs and poor materials selection to disaster relief, roofing insulation and more recently that major fiasco which is Edspend. That chicken is yet to roost but he is looking decidedly sick on his way to the henhouse.

    Why not let the states be fully accountable for education and health on the basis of their receiving their rightful allocation of tax revenues minus what the Feds need to run Defence, Borders and tax collection? The states can do the rest and then we know who is responsible if our system packs it in. If we have a problem, it is far easier to complain to the state parliament than to live in hope that some federal bureaucrat will lower the drawbridge and allow us to pass into Camelot. And moreover, states do not have the power to declare us enemy combatants, threats to national security, terrorists or any other crap that national governments these days are disposed to label anyone who disagrees with their policies.

    And think of all the lobbyists who will no longer have anywhere to go!

  8. Harvey Tarvydas

    Dr Harvey M Tarvydas

    Enlightening summary BK, thanks.
    I saw the show and Sue Dunlevy let it rip like a champion.
    John Brumby may be haggling, he may be doing the best for Victorians as he sees it because he says so (beyond that there is no evidence) but he may diminish or damage a very important and major reform for all sorts of mischievous reasons. How do we bring in the risk managers.
    He stated many times that his main medical adviser was a state president of the AMA who probably runs a great practice but will have few credentials beyond that to add to a process that has been arduous, very very long and involving many talents.
    The exquisite Rhodes Scholar intellect of you know who is reaching for philosophical greatness when he says “there’s a huge difference between funding health and delivering health benefits to the population” yeh baby, budgie fan, one is done by accountants and the other by doctors and you’re neither (but as any mother would say “wait till you grow up son”). Being too clever till you are actually dumb and lost in your own spin – need to learn to think honestly instead if trickily.

  9. davidk

    Richard, you say things started to go wrong with health when the Feds got involved. Do you mean Medibank?

  10. Venise Alstergren

    To all the people who are betting that Rudd will win this Health row with John Brumby. Don’t forget John Brumby won at a canter on their first row about the Murray Darling Basin.

    The only thing this evil little toad wants is the joy of flexing his own muscles.

    If anyone here really and truly believes that John Brumby cares about the future of Victoria you would have to be certifiably insane.