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Punch lines

By Andrew Elder - posted Tuesday, 12 January 2010

Tony Abbott is doing to the Liberal Party what Noordin Muhammad Topp did to the Marriott Hotel in Jakarta. I don't care if he has a book to sell, Abbott should keep his trap shut about important areas of policy in which he is not qualified to speak.

This article shows the sort of self-indulgence which one expects of Opposition figures who quite like being freed from the responsibilities of office, and who are happy to drag their colleagues, their party and all of its supporters into utter hopelessness when it comes to the next election, and as many after that until they tire of treating their party as a personal plaything.

A coalition government would devolve the running of the nation's public hospitals to the private sector, community groups and charities, opposition frontbencher Tony Abbott says.

"We wouldn't run them with public servants," he told the Ten Network.


Firstly, the Opposition spokesperson on health is a placeholder from Queensland named Peter Dutton, and if he had guts or brains in any quantity he would realise that his position is now untenable.

Secondly, Tony Abbott doesn't make unilateral decisions like this. As Health Minister his main achievement was to play silly-buggers with state health bureaucracies, and any pronouncement like this must be judged in the same light as an arsonist joining a rural fire brigade.

This is a huge issue, so let's judge it on its merits. If it has merit then Abbott is right to speak out about it.

Mr Abbott, a health minister in the previous Howard coalition government, said it was time to give the public hospital system back to the people.

His vision includes the establishment of local hospital boards with the power to appoint their own chief executive and the ability to retain revenue from privately-insured patients.

His vision, in other words, is a return to an era where big-ticket technologies and insurance were unheard of, and where cronyism and petty politics made health policy harder, not easier, to implement. His vision involves government abrogating a core responsibility and abandoning its one real option for keeping costs low and maintaining accountability. That's the quality of his vision, it will tank at the polls if the Liberal Party dare to put it to voters.

Several good Liberal MPs will be pole-axed by their constituencies and no new Coalition voters will be attracted to such a badly thought-out policy. It will kill the Liberals' hopes of winning state government.


Rather than direct funding by government, non-government providers will demand - and get - a premium for "adjustments" in taking on a whole lot of health bureaucrats at higher levels of pay, and then a premium on the running costs because, well, there are profits to be made and drugs and equipment and machines-that-go-ping aren't getting any cheaper. This will still have to be managed by a whole bunch of bureaucrats. If this had been a good idea, Abbott would have done it long before now.

"It is a dog's breakfast of divided responsibility," Mr Abbott said of the present system where the states blamed the commonwealth for lack of funding.

You had your chance to be part of the solution, Tony, but you were only ever part of the problem. I think you enjoyed the problem, and in true public service style you would have enjoyed the perpetual status of health.

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First published on the author's blog Politically Homeless on August 2, 2009. Best Blogs 2009 is published in collaboration with Club Troppo.

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About the Author

Andrew Elder was a member of the Liberal Party of Australia, starting off as a libertarian-punk, then as a moderate seeking to preserve rights and freedoms in a changing world; now he scorns the know-nothing Liberals, doesn't trust the left and disdains the other interest groups that flit around Australian politics, and does so publicly yet obscurely. He blogs at Politically Homeless.

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

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