Live blog: Health Debate


Watching ABC today – obviously health isn’t an important issue to channel 9. I can understand not showing this one to be honest. Perhaps the environment purely to see Turnbull and Garret go at it, but other than leaders and treasurer, most people aren’t going to be interested. No worm unfortunately – ABC couldn’t afford to employ someone else. It’s the Press Club again, and President Ken ‘The Box’ Randall introduces …

And Tony Abbott is late! He has to come in from Melbourne where he was making announcements with Howard. This is quite a poor effort – or shows how much the current administration values health and public debate. I wonder if anyone will make a point about it …

Nicola Roxson is going to open with her statement and if Abbott isn’t there, they will just go on. I’ve been a fan of Nicola for some time – though have never though her much of the politician mainly because she doesn’t have the body language for it. Let’s see if she’s up for the challenge.

Opening Statements

Nicola Roxson

Makes a few jokes about Abbott not being there. Quite a ‘familiar’ speaker – she speaks to you like your in a conversation with here, and you’re a friend. A nice touch after the leaders and treasurers. Then starts to ram it in that Abbott isn’t here. So she should – it’s a joke that he’s not there. Onto policy now. List the problems that face health policies in Australia. Blame game between states, aging population, etc. Personifies the system now with a funny joke – an unhappy marriage between state and federal. At the point where they’ve tried counseling and are ready for divorce. Says most people have given up on the system – but not Labor. They “want to fix these things and take on the future challenges”. Flash forward to how bad it could be for “our children”.

The changing community needs shape policies, and will continue under Labor. Labor plans on Investing in the health sector – not just a plan for one marginal seat but for the entire country. There needs to be less pressure for hosipitals. Labor is planning for the next decades. They will take responibility for the problems in the system and end the blame game – Austrlains are “sick to death” of it. Is that a pun? Health minister? Sick to death?

$600 million to slash waiting time for elective surgery. 900 more nurses for the system. $220 million for a G.P. super-clinic. A list of other investments they have planned. Keep on with the figures! It makes it sound good with this type of presentation. Further ideas. New policy! New accountability and reporting system for all hospitals. Nothing that in depth. Stay tuned later today she says.

Now comes the Abbott-bashing. He’s against reform – true. He likes to paint people as extremists – also true. Underinvestment in public hospitals and advancements in the system. Government is being left behind by a progressing field. Hardly ever reviewed anything in the system – and even when reviews are undertaken, he ignores what they say anyway. Example: Medicare and the workforce advice on nurses – all this advice was ignored. Abbott fixes political problems as they arise – not the health problems of Australians. Bulk billing is only now climbing up to Labor levels. This is probably something they should say more often. The blame game continues with Liberals. Dental waiting lists – Abbott says that every single person on the list are Labor ‘party stooges’. “Who on earth is Abbot going to abuse next?” His bashing of Bernie Banton as well – that was a disgrace. “The damage has been done” despite the apology to the guy. He’s a minister out of control and out of touch – yes and yes.

Under Howard’s watch, there’s been a fall to 41% for hospital funding. Now all they have is a takeover plan for one hospital in a marginal seat. This won’t get more nurses, doctors or dollars into the system – only 7, 500 more bureaucrats in the system. But Abbott has said that bureaucrats are the problem, so what’s the go? Their plan won’t apply to small hospitals which need help. Work Choices for nurses.

Abbott is just a political fixer – and this is a valuable role for a party. But not for the Australian people. The blame game has to stop. Labor will tackle the challenges and end the blame game, fix Australian health care. and do a better job. Roxson is really laying it onto Abbott – he will wish that he was hear to defend himself.

End that. Abbott still not here.


Dannielle Cronin, Canberra Times – Health and hospital plan. $400m committed already – is Labor going to run out of money to fix the problem by the end of the campaign?

Roxson: It’s all a down-payment and investments for reforms that are needed. There’s a difference with the government: they aren’t afraid to use the money to drive change. Good answer

Mark Meadow, S.M.H. – Health insurance rebate and Medicare safety net. Favours high income peoples – people who can afford health insurance, well serviced by doctors, better access, etc. Is the egalitarian nature diluted by the federal government, and what will you do about it?

Because the question was really for Abbott, Roxson makes a joke that she can do a mean Abbott impersonation. Very funny and gets a good reaction. All you need is a monotonous voice and the hand actions.

Roxson: We need to have a strong public and private with the balance right. We must have a sustainable public system and a reasonably profitable private system. Labor is not opposed to private, but says the federal government has neglected the public system. They have ripped up Medicare and haven’t made it a future investment – Labor will invest in it in the future. Committed to review it all. Abbott says that he’s the best friend that Medicare has ever had – Roxson says that he says it so that eventually someone will eventually believe him. It should be universally available to everyone.

Laura Tingle, Financial Review – Health care agreements. How the new negotiations will be negotiated – Labor says they want cooperative approach, but whack the states if they don’t behave. Will this happen? Any certain conditions like that of the current federal government – not I.R., but of the same vein? Like how hospitals are managed?

Roxson: The negotiations need to be done by next year, and Labor has an ambitious time table for their changes. The entire agreements need a shake-up, not just hospitals. Identify targets and get them into the system – this may take longer. Early work will reform the conditions they want to enact. Get in touch with all the state health ministers the day after election. Coalition has never done this – they focused on the election rather than the health of Australians. (I’m lead to believe that the negotiating period crossed over with the campaigning time, so Abbott didn’t take part. Labor is set to negotiate and get a better system going. Time will be set for reform for the states – if they fail, federal Labor will seek from the public the permission to go ahead with their own financial management. Don’t want drag-out negotiations.

Jane Bunce, A.A.P. – Labor says they are the most focused on dental care, but they’ve announced less spending.

Roxson: Expect more announcements in the future, but just pouring more money in doesn’t fix the scheme. Very good answer. The Coalition haven’t serviced anyone in NT under 25. There’s something wrong with the design of the health agreements as well – so this needs fixing too. Rather than spending money on a dud system, they will put some money in, fund consultations on people and cut down the waiting list. The government wont do that because they don’t want to work with the states or work with a public system.

Roy Eccleston wins some award. ‘The Box’ wanted Abbott to be there for it for some reason.You wouldn’t want to ruin the occasion, would you?
Hedley Thomas, The Australian – Queensland and the Beattie government promised to cut waiting lists. Led to short cuts and disasters. You’ve announced similar pressures. How can you ensure the targets are met wholly.

Roxson: We need to be able to do more than one thing at once. Invest and cut waiting lists. Provide extra nurses. New funding scheme. Better relations between federal and state. Elective surgery won’t dominate the scene, but we need to set some targets to make actual achievements and long-term impacts. Enough resources and enough staff – should make this a campaign policy. This was the best answer yet.

Sue Dunlevy, Daily Telegraph – Blame game. Labor has made much of it. N.S.W. state government has seen a massive slide in quality of service. Why should Australians trust another Labor government? It’s only putting $600 million back into the system when the Coalition ripped out $1 billion.

Roxson: There’s a difference because Labor’s $2.5 billion plan (not just $600 million) is going country wide. The truth is that public hospitals everywhere are under pressure, not just N.S.W. The federal government has failed to be an active participant – Labor will make sure that the states get sufficient resources and tight time-frames will be set out. Then, if it doesn’t work, they are prepared to take on the financial control of hospitals – only after asking the public. Try to see if a new approach will work, because the old one hasn’t. Though she expects to see an outcome before they come to the point where they need to take control.

Abbott here! Walks up to the stage, gandering around. Goose. Opening statement … now.

Opening Statement

Tony Abbott

Thanks for patience and sorry for being late. Here we go. I hate his speaking style. It. Sounds. Like. This. Health may not be important to journalists – but important to the Australian people. Honoured to have been Health Minister this long. Roxson doesn’t look pleased – I wouldn’t. Half hour gone now. Bulk billing rates at record highs. Changed the health culture of Australia – change from treating sickness to a culture of wellness. Transformed the P.B.S. – more access to life saving drugs, and cheaper. Investment into aged care. Doesn’t want to talk about the past record, wants to talk about the future. Then why waste all this time?

Hospitals are a problem because of mismanagement by state Labor. Need more money, better management, and less pressures. The Coalition will address these three aspects. They will provide more money over and above indexation – but will expect more from the states for this increased funding. Call for states to publish public performance repost (like what Roxson announced 25 minutes ago!). Require states to create hospital boards – management should be accountable to local people. There is no perfect way to run public hospitals – but budget cutting isn’t the right way for sure. If there’s no perfect way, the why not give Labor’s way a go?

To take the pressure off, they plan to take forces and people (patients included) out of hospital who don’t need to be there. Funding after-hour clinics and institutes where people can go if they don’t need to go to an emergency ward. Transition institutes for people who don’t need acute care. Expect further announcements by Howard.

“Only the Howard government has policy”. Labor won’t take on state governments. Wants to end the blame game – but it is not by blaming everything on the Howard government. Don’t defend incompetent state governments. Meshes state Labor with federal Labor.

Medicare. Federal Labor will run this like state Labor run hospitals. Points out that Director-General Rudd closed 2200 beds and failed in fluoridation of the water supply in Queensland.

Talks about the things Labor says they support, but have spoken out against at other times.

Wants to be health minister after election. Health care agreement needs to be renegotiated.

Pretty unimpressive for an Abbott speech to be honest.


Annabel Stafford, The Age – Roxson: You’ve called for the banning the use of licensed character in the advertisement of junk food. Recently it hasn’t been spoken about. Have Labor moved away from this? Have you been overruled like Peter Garret on environment and the death penalty fiasco.

Roxson: Labor is committed to tackling the junk food and obesity crisis. Interested in the techniques that advertisers use as a mother of a 2.5 yo – she has personal investment. Looks forward to the upcoming A.C.M.A. review – will consult this for advise. There needs to be a look at the entire media industry, not just T.V. and packaging – magazines, SMS marketing, etc. New policies that are teaching kids about food, whats good and bad, are needed or further invested in. New research is needed. Interesting answer here.

Abbott: Obvious that Rudd has overruled Nicola on this issue. Talks about how Rudd has slapped her down. Why don’t you talk about what Howard will do? The only people responsible for what goes into peoples mouths are parents and adult – not the government. Why are there illegal drugs then? People need to be better informed and helped to make better choices. What a right-wing approach. Is glad that the fine print of food has been made ‘bigger’ (my metaphor).

Rhianna King, The West Australian – Abbott: How many hospitals will you have run by local boards.

Abbott: Every hospital needs to be run by someone. And the P.M. cannot do this – so Rudd’s policy is a dud. Rudd won’t get away with it. Says the word bizarre three times here. Hospitals should be accountable to local people – public hospitals need boards. They would work better if they had boards – doctors, nurses and former patients on the boards. The PM will announce a policy later – in a week or so.

Roxson: It’s obvious that the minister doesn’t have a clear plan at all. This is true from that last answer answer. This debate is going to get good. I suspect Roxson hates Abbott, and Abbott thinks Roxson should be in a kitchen somewhere. A.W.A.’s won’t apply at Mersey a hospital- but nothing stops the Coalition from putting every other nurse in the country on them.

Clinton Porteous, Courier Mail – Abbot: You were late. Why not a replacement if you knew you’d be late? And better travel arrangements.

Abbott: Happy to apologise. Had to be at campaign launch this morning. Was impossible to get here quicker. Viewers to make the judgment. My judgment: You’re an ass.

Roxson: Abbott always saying sorry. Sorry for Bernie. Sorry for lateness. Sorry for dental waiting lists. Sorry for people missing out, etc. Arrogant government and a discourteous minister. Abbott looked pissed there.

Michelle Branton – Abbott: In the past you were a strong supporter of public hospital takeover by the federal government. Now you say you don’t believe in it. Tell us how you changed your mind.

Abbott: Says his view was always the best way to help public hospitals was to have them locally managed – local, local, local. Always what he wanted. There is now a better way to do this than to have a full federal takeover – through the health care agreements and through increased funding. Moving towards a system of local hospital boards, which is what he always wanted. Boards through different means. Now on about Rudd. Blah blah blah. Stick to policy, not smear to git! I find it interesting that he said in the past that federal takeover was the best way, now slanders Labor for saying it.

Roxson: I presume that he is just going to hand over a bucket of money, and another level or responsibilities and red tape. Not the right approach.

Mark Metherall, SMH – Egalitarian nature again. Commonwealth contribution has gone down for the public system and more into the private system. People who are better off are getting the better services. Struggling families ares still struggling. Question?

Abbott: Accepts that not everyone can be bulk billed for everything, and it’s important to have the safety net. Smear on Labor for opposing the safety net in the past, but glad that they have had a last minute conversion. Health care agreements: Federal government has entirely honoured their agreements. If the states didn’t like the deal, they shouldn’t have signed up. A lot of choice they had Tony. Federal health funding has increased 5% a year, while state spending on hospitals has increased more than that. Is glad the states are spending more on health, but they are playing catch-up. Why didn’t the Coalition give them more then?

Roxson: The Coalition will take a similar offer to the negotiations – an 11th hour offer: take it or leave it. They didn’t, and wont, deal with all of the issues that the state faces. Labor will face up to them with states.

Laura Tingle – Abbott: Health care agreements. Talked about what you’ll do with conditions to the agreements in the past – that there won’t be attached conditions. Will you just hand over the money. Are you going to do what you did with Mercy? Cherry-pick? Will there be new conditions, other than boards? Other conditions on future agreements, like I.R.?

Abbott: “In respect to hospitals, we’re aiming for the best delivery of services, not workplace relations changes.” They aren’t “hell-bent on putting people on A.W.A.’s.” Their public hospital policy in a week or so will spell everything out. They want public hospitals to have pubic boards, but still run by the state governments, funding still given to the state governments, but the management of the budget to the local board.

Roxson: The nurse fiasco and the A.W.A.’s. Nothing about health in that retort.

Closing statements

Tony Abbott

Judge this government by their record and by its promises. Judge by effectiveness of record in regards to the promises. Been a good manager of Medicare and other systems. Increased funding substantially. Medicare a better program now than 11 years ago. They don’t just talk – they deliver. Judge what the future holds by what happened in the past. Feels desperately sorry for the patients of the dodgey state-run hospitals, as well as the doctors and nurses who aren’t being listened to. We will give everyone – patients and staff – better public hospitals. It won’t be done by running them from Canberra. Give the control to local people. Medicare. PBS. Aged care. Let them do the same good job they did with those with public hospitals. Australians need and deserve a better system.


This election there’s a clear distinction and a choice for everyone. The real record: 65% of Australia in workforce shortage. Australians can’t afford health care. The dental waiting list. The elderly who are stuck in hospitals because they cant find aged care beds. The Coalition only has a plan to force nurses onto A.W.A.’s and a willingness to talk about their past record – which, she says, isn’t that flash. Federal Labor offers a clear picture for the future. Recognises the real health problems for the population and will confront them. The children! Save the children. The buck will stop with Labor – they don’t have an election plan, they have a real plan. One for the future. Labor will make a better system.

A few jokes about Abbott being late, round of applause and that’s it.



Well, a pretty strange debate because Abbott wasn’t there for the first half hour. And short – only an hour total. Policy was light and heavy – when it came up, they both knew what they were talking about. The main point of difference I see is who is going to control the budget-spending of hospitals – Canberra with Rudd or local boards with Howard. I think that taking the control to Canberra is a good idea on principal but I’m worried about who could get control of the hospitals. What if after this Labor government, the Liberals are back in and Abbott gets to see how the money is spent – Abbott with his strong religious convictions. The local board idea seems to be a good one but it’s another layer of red tape. And what if the board gets stacked a-la my fears with the control in Canberra.

This debate really swung me around to Nicola Roxson. I’ve always disliked Abbott as a minister, but was ho-hum on Roxson. She’s a good speaker, knows her portfolio and didn’t back-down from the bully that Abbott was. Good on her for sticking it to him as well. Winner? Well, Roxson because she was there for the whole thing, Abbott looked rushed and was light on in-depth material.Any other day it would probably still be Roxson because she sticks to policy and portfolio, while Abbott relies on the past (which is quite flawed) and smearing Labor.




One thought on “Live blog: Health Debate

  1. Great analysis! Please keep it coming. I need something to distract me from these bloody reports.

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