Abbott has beaten Rudd to the punch on health
Is it too early to differentiate classic Abbott as Liberal leader from classic Abbott the wrecking ball? Perhaps, but if he does announce soon that a Coalition government would push for a hospital takeover it will be one hell of a great play.
With Abbott and opposition health spokesman Peter Dutton flagging moves to make Coalition policy a referendum to take over state hospitals they have beaten Kevin Rudd and Labor to the punch on what, thus far, has been a dithering display on the issue by Kevin Rudd and Nicola Roxon.
The Government has already broken an election promise on hospitals. It said it would force the states to improve public hospitals or announce a takeover of hospitals, via a referendum at the next election, by mid-2009. It has done neither.
A recent meeting between the Prime Minister and state premiers on health reform was the latest scene in what is becoming a Rudd Government production of Groundhog Day.
Kevin Rudd and Nicola Roxon go into COAG declaring it’s time for real action on health reform and tell the states to get with the program. The states go in and declare that they’re also committed to reform on health. Several hours later the Prime Minister and the premiers emerge to tell us all they’re committed to a new blueprint on health reform which will be sorted out at the next COAG.
While the Prime Minister scrambles on a policy to allay fears on the ETS, obfuscation and broken promises on health reform is just as juicy a target for Tony Abbott.
As one very senior health official pointed out to The Punch: “the audience on health and hospital reform has changed since the 2007 election campaign. Then it was the Australian public, now it is the states and health bureaucrats who mostly don’t want a bar of big reform.” In other words it’s the reality gap between promises in opposition and enforcing them in Government.
One benefit of this is that people a lot less likely to realise that a promise has actually been broken until they start listening closely again, i.e., another election campaign. Of course the problem is that the Government has now left any real action on this issue till the year of an election campaign, meaning the inaction on an election promise is accentuated.
Basically Rudd and Roxon never really wanted to takeover hospitals and nobody in the sector or state government thought they ever would. Now they’re in a corner over the issue.
By coming out and supporting a referendum on a hospital takeover now Tony Abbott appears exactly as he wants to: a man of action up against Kevin Rudd and his cabal of do-nothing mandarins.
Politically he can also corner Rudd by claiming that the inaction is a result of Labor love-ins at COAG that produce nothing but memorandums Copenhagen style.
While Labor have been keen to accuse him of making it up as he goes along and inaction when he was in power, Abbott has the advantage of actually having a long-term interest in a hospital takeover, even writing about it in his recent book Battlelines.
As former health minister Abbott was rolled by Howard and Cabinet on his proposal for a hospital takeover and had to embarrassingly back-track when Rudd put it on the table during the last election.
Now he’s in charge and aims to beat Rudd at the same game he played at the last election.
Rudd’s only option now is to come out and do something strong on this issue, and without letting Abbott set the agenda.
He needs to punch through all the rubbish in the states and bureaucracy holding up reform on hospitals or risks being punched out by the pugilist.
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