The scrapping of the most recent iteration of the Medicare rebate cuts may be a win for patients, but it suggests a health system in turmoil and no clear direction on how to get it back on track.
It’s hardly surprising that the realisation that certain Medicare rebates would be cut by $20.10 was met with opposition by GPs, patients, the Australian Medical Association (AMA) and of course, opposition MPs, but it’s the lack of support from government backbenchers which is cause for concern.
Former cabinet minister Mal Brough was prepared to go public with his opposition to the imminent change and Campbell Newman, facing a battle for re-election in Queensland, was keen to have the issue killed. And Queensland backbencher Bert van Manen has made public what he sees as a need for the government to fix its communication problems. All this only 24 hours after Tony Abbott had defended the changes as a “price signal” and “economic reform”.
Indeed, the news of the backdown came as a surprise to doctors, who were holding meetings with the AMA, displaying posters in waiting rooms directing complaints about new fees to Tony Abbott and mobilising a petition on GetUp, which quickly gained momentum and over 44,000 signatures. And while the news, delivered by new Minster for Health Susan Ley, that the changes would be scrapped was welcome, she also made it clear that more changes were to come. “It remains critical that we implement changes to ensure quality care for Australians and a secure future for Medicare,” Ms Ley said.
Greens senator Dr Richard Di Natale signalled not only a health policy in crisis, but a government at odds, by saying, “You have to wonder about the fact we were promised this sort of calm, methodical, grown-up government. And yet when it comes to health policy it’s just one shambles, followed by another shambles, it’s just chaos.”
Independent senator Nick Xenaphon hoped that the government would take note that consultation with GPs was needed to ensure successful changes to the health system were made. “This is a case where the Government hasn’t thought this through,” he said. “They have treated doctors as an enemy rather than a friend where they can work together with them to get a better health outcome and savings to taxpayers.”
If the last six months has taught Tony Abbott one thing, hopefully it is that it is time to listen to what others believe is right for our country, rather than attempting to implement policy and changes which are sporadic at best and incredibly damaging at worst.
It must be said that Tony Abbott has increased his political worth overseas when dealing with such tragedies as the disappearance of flight MH370 and the shooting down of flight MH17, but domestically the Prime Minister seems to be at odds with what the country wants and needs.
Shunned by his own party during the Victorian state election and given the short-shrift by Campbell Newman now that campaigning for the Queensland election is underway, Mr Abbott is facing a choppy political future. Undermined by his own backbenchers on policies he wholeheartedly champions, such as the GP co-payment in its many iterations and paid parental leave (yes, he’s still keen on that), it’s time for the Prime Minster to take a deep breath and listen.
Far from taking the strides forward we were promised when the Coalition government came to power some 14 months ago, we’re in a holding pattern which is good for no one. We have a health system in turmoil, an education system which is in danger of becoming a cash cow for universities, a national broadcaster forced to slash staff, the Australian Tax Office unable to chase tax cheats due to staff cuts and uncertainty surrounding the future of the Age Pension. If we’re better off under Mr Abbott’s leadership, as we’re constantly told we are, then I must be missing something big that’s happened.
Frequent changes in leadership of the country does no one any favours and so I would like nothing more than to have a government which truly does what is best for Australia, and those who call it home. With Australia Day just around the corner, and the centenary of the ANZAC landings at Gallipoli, perhaps it’s time for Mr Abbott to reflect on what truly makes this country great and embrace it, rather than try to tear it apart.
Do you think that changes to the health system, Medicare in particular, are called for? Is there a need for greater government consultation with stakeholders before making fundamental policy changes? Is Tony Abbott on the right track with his management of the country and economy, or is it time for him to take stock and a new direction?