When they happen, policy changes can be ugly things, not least because they can make a government’s previous rhetoric look altogether silly. Like on the GP co-payment.

Here’s Tony Abbott in May: “It is a policy that we are taking forward. We are absolutely committed, absolutely committed to all of the measures that we announced on budget night.”

Peter Dutton in August: “When we talk about blanket exemptions, you’re talking about people, for argument’s sake, who might be on a pension or under the age of 16, you’re talking about almost 9 million Australians out of a population of 23 million. So it’s very hard to provide blanket exemptions.”

And Joe Hockey last week: “We are committed, I mean, that’s our policy. The $7 co-payment is our policy. With so many other things, it was actually the Labor Party’s policy, you know.”

Still, the government would be pleased with many of yesterday’s headlines, which are likely to leave voters with the impression it has now caved in on the GP co-payment.

Here’s The Sydney Morning Herald: “Abbott government dumps proposed $7 GP co-payment”. SBS: “Abbott axes GP co-payment proposal”. Sky News: “GP co-payment scrapped”. The West Australian: “GP co-payment scrapped”. And Nine: “Abbott scraps controversial $7 GP co-payment”.

Other outlets had headlines that were considerably more accurate.

Here’s News.com.au: “Tony Abbott announces changes to $7 Medicare co-payment”. News.com.au/AAP: “GP co-payment reprieve, but only for some”. The Guardian: “Tony Abbott moves to plan B on Medicare co-payment for GP visits”. And Fairfax’s Peter Martin: “Abbott’s GP co-payments aren’t dead: it’s a tweak not a termination”.

A tweak, not a termination, is correct. Question is, which headlines will voters believe?

Peter Fray

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