Allan Takes Aim Blog

COAG and the health reform that wasn’t

Posted on: 12 May 2010

First published The Chronicle, Canberra, Tuesday 4 May 2010

Before COAG started Prime Minister Rudd told State and Territory Leaders his historical and radical reform of the health system depended on them giving him 30% of their GST revenue. The South Australian Premier quickly caved in but all the others said over my dead body. Despite their brave words all the others except for the Premier of Western Australia, accepted various bribes from the PM in return for 30% of their GST.

Among the many bribes the PM doled out was that he would provide thousands of extra hospital beds, as if only hospitals comprised the total heath system. What this statement conveyed to the many people anxiously waiting for a hospital bed to become available was that their waiting time would soon be over.

Had this been true, it would have been marvellous. Unfortunately and sadly, the many who thought they wouldn’t be waiting much longer would soon find out that it would be years before the promised extra beds would be available, by which time the probability is that they would have had to call on their local emergency services.

While everyone in health knows there is a shortage of beds they know also that there is a shortage of the myriad personnel needed to provide services to people currently in beds. And while thousands of extra beds sounds good, unless the shortage of personnel is addressed, the extra beds would be valueless.

Generously, the PM then promised to recruit the needed thousands of doctors, nurses and various other health professionals to overcome this problem without saying where such personnel would come from. One hopes he isn’t intending to recruit them from countries whose need for them is even greater than Australia’s?

But now that COAG has come and gone, what did it leave behind? What it left behind was many people wondering what the PM meant by historical and radical reform. If he thought that giving bigger bribes than usual was historical and radical, then he had been radical. Indeed, had the theme song for COAG been “Money is the root of all evil,” by conference end and because of the PMs munificence, the words would have been changed to: “Money is the root of all cures.”

And if the future health of the nation could be measured by the value of the bribes the PM doled out, State and Territory leaders could almost promise voters that illness would be a thing of the past. This could be seen during the meeting because, whenever a State or Territory leader mentioned difficulty in a particular area of health, the PM was not long in promising a bribe valued in the millions to that particular State or Territory leader to help overcome the difficulty. 

The reality is the PM’s statements that he was radically reforming Australia’s health system to help “working families” which he reiterated constantly at COAG, were rhetoric. Had he wanted to be radical, he would have told State and Territory Leaders their heath systems would be scrapped and that a National system from which people could opt out if they wished, would be established.

What happened? Nothing! We still have eight health services because the PM lacked the courage to change the system; after all, this is an election year. However, in an attempt to make it look as if change had taken place, he became more magnanimous and doled out even more bribe money to the States and Territories to help with various programs, for example: disability, mental health, homelessness and aged care

 Following COAG, as State and Territory leaders waxed eloquently about their successful strategies I sensed the strategy all had followed had been designed by the PMs minders to show it had been the PMs arguments that had persuaded them to give up 30% of their GST. Unfortunately the West Australian Premier still declined the PMs blandishments.

With an election pending, it seemed to me the strategy adopted had been designed to help boost the PMs falling ratings Unfortunately for the PM what many voters saw was seven State and Territory leaders exhibit not only their usual lack of principle but also the possible purchase of a pig in a poke. We shall see.

The Chronicle every Tuesday for the best of Canberra Community News


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