Like what you've read?

On Line Opinion is the only Australian site where you get all sides of the story. We don't
charge, but we need your support. Here�s how you can help.

  • Advertise

    We have a monthly audience of 70,000 and advertising packages from $200 a month.

  • Volunteer

    We always need commissioning editors and sub-editors.

  • Contribute

    Got something to say? Submit an essay.

 The National Forum   Donate   Your Account   On Line Opinion   Forum   Blogs   Polling   About   
On Line Opinion logo ON LINE OPINION - Australia's e-journal of social and political debate


On Line Opinion is a not-for-profit publication and relies on the generosity of its sponsors, editors and contributors. If you would like to help, contact us.


RSS 2.0

Health - an awful 'debate' and meaningless 'reforms'

By Peter Baume - posted Wednesday, 2 March 2011

The health debate in Australia is awful

The wrong language is used. Wrong choices are made. The real problems are ignored. No courage is shown. There is too much spin and pandering to the popular press and to the shock jocks. Our dedicated medical practitioners are working against the odds.

There is no morality in advocating tax cuts when there is hunger, homelessness and unmet need in so many areas. We need decent services - and should be willing to pay for them.


In place of focus groups we need leaders who tell us something new and who inspire us.

People are waiting too long for admission to hospital and people are being discharged from hospital prematurely. Staff morale is low. There are not enough trained people.

Doctors see problems in terms of the needs of the patients they interact with every day. Everything rotates around their patients: "If something can be done, it should be done." or "If this is done elsewhere, then it ought to be done here - and done now". But they show too little understanding of the resource implications of what they may be proposing.

Medical associations sometimes behave like militant trade unions - Painters and Dockers in white coats.

The bureaucrats are often obsessed with process and not with outcomes. They do what political leaders tell them to do - and sometimes it is the wrong thing to do. They are very aware of the power games that go on in Canberra and Macquarie St and they play in those games. For them it is the budget balance than counts - whatever the social effects.

For decades political leaders have been making silly promises in the health area - mostly close to elections, and expecting health workers to deliver on those promises.


Some initiatives just skew the system. We only became really knowledgeable about the exact costs in the months following an accounting period.

There are many good features about what we do have - particularly our universal insurance arrangements which were introduced only after a joint sitting of the Parliament, and over the angry protests of the AMA, the then Federal Opposition and the medical profession. But we do not have as good a system as we sometimes think.

In a recent study conducted by the Commonwealth Fund and involving eleven nations, Australia did poorly.

  1. Pages:
  2. Page 1
  3. 2
  4. 3
  5. 4
  6. All

This is an edited extract of the Malcolm Schonell Memorial lecture given by the Honourable Emeritus Professor Peter Baume AC, Former Minister for Health, Aboriginal Affairs, Education at St George Hospital, Kogarah on Thursday February 17, 2011.

Discuss in our Forums

See what other readers are saying about this article!

Click here to read & post comments.

2 posts so far.

Share this:
reddit this reddit thisbookmark with Del.icio.usdigg thisseed newsvineSeed NewsvineStumbleUpon StumbleUponsubmit to propellerkwoff it

About the Author

Professor Peter Baume is a former Australian politician. Baume was Professor of Community Medicine at the University of New South Wales (UNSW) from 1991 to 2000 and studied euthanasia, drug policy and evaluation. Since 2000, he has been an honorary research associate with the Social Policy Research Centre at UNSW. He was Chancellor of the Australian National University from 1994 to 2006. He has also been Commissioner of the Australian Law Reform Commission, Deputy Chair of the Australian National Council on AIDS and Foundation Chair of the Australian Sports Drug Agency. He was appointed a director of Sydney Water in 1998. Baume was appointed an Officer of the Order of Australia in January 1992 in recognition of service to the Australian Parliament and upgraded to Companion in the 2008 Queen's Birthday Honours List. He received an honorary doctorate from the Australian National University in December 2004. He is also patron of The National Forum, publisher of On Line Opinion.

Other articles by this Author

All articles by Peter Baume

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

Photo of Peter Baume
Article Tools
Comment 2 comments
Print Printable version
Subscribe Subscribe
Email Email a friend

About Us Search Discuss Feedback Legals Privacy