Julia Gillard has turned to e-health to inject a note of vision into her campaign launch this afternoon in Brisbane, announcing a new Medicare rebate item for online consultations and promising to expand the GP after-hours service to include broadband-delivered consultations.

Gillard’s launch was otherwise a fairly flat recitation of her campaign commitments, albeit shaped into a narrative centred on Gillard’s own concerns about the value of work, the transformative power of education and Labor’s efforts to stave off the economic downturn.

The only new announcement centred on a new, $400m proposal to exploit the health benefits of online consultation, intended to underline the Coalition’s weakness on broadband and combine it with Labor’s traditional dominance in health.

The proposal includes:

  • MBS rebates for online consultations for rural, remote and outer metropolitan areas ($250m)
  • Financial incentives for GPs and specialists to deliver online services ($57m)
  • An expansion of the GP after hours helpline to provide online triage and basic medical advice via the NBN ($50m); and
  • Training for health professionals using online technologies ($35m).

Labor’s launch was an almost aggressively no-frills affair, held in a small, unadorned venue in the Brisbane Exhibition Centre, with Anna Bligh (briefly), Wayne Swan and an at-times rambling Bob Hawke to introduce Gillard.

The Prime Minister’s speech — given off-the-cuff — was similarly short on frills, hitting the key Labor notes of education, working conditions and health, mixed with plenty of attacks on Tony Abbott, including today’s bizarre “boatphone” announcement. The “unreal”, boring Julia of the first two weeks was very much in charge today.

But in a campaign in which both sides have been accused of avoiding any vision, Gillard tried to combine Labor’s key themes of health and the NBN to focus on the real, household-level benefits of the broadband network, providing a concrete example of how the NBN can improve family life. Labor will hope this encourages voters to further focus on the Liberals’ refusal to countenance substantial investment in high-speed broadband.

Whether it succeeds is another question — there are enormous health benefits to be gained from better use of communications technology, particularly for rural and regional communities, but the heat of an election campaign is hardly the best time to be selling them as a core part of a party’s election strategy. By combining two of its signature issues, Labor may have been a little too clever.

But at least it’s a modicum of vision in an uninspiring campaign.