At lunchtime today supporters of Defend and Extend Medicare met at the State Library for the 8th rally in 18 months. Tony Abbott sent his apologies for the 6th time (it was suggested he might be heading for Rome …) but the shadow – and hopefully soon-to-be actual minister for health, Julia Gillard was there, along with her counterparts from
the Democrats, Senator Lyn Allison, and Greens, Senator Kerry Nettle, as well as Rod Wilson, Convenor of the Medicare Action Group, who provided the figures just quoted, Tim Woodruff of the Doctors’ Reform Society, Leigh Hubbard from Trades Hall, and last but by no means least, Joe Toscano from the group Defend and Extend Medicare.
After the big gatherings of the last few days the attendance may have seemed small, but there were not far short of a hundred people spread out over the steps and lawn, including small contingents of CPSU and ANF members.
Lyn Allison regretted that keeping John Howard honest was one area in which the Democrats had failed in their historic role… She called for better health care in rural areas, and the setting up of ‘Denticare’ to complement Medicare. Like Rod Wilson, she stressed how the safety net benefits doctors, but pushes up costs to patients … She
called for more emphasis on prevention, contrasting the paltry amount spent on countering smoking with the billions transferred to the private health industry via the rebate.
Introduced as ‘[hopefully] the next health minister’, Julia Gillard pointed out how Labor in office builds Medicare, only to see the Coalition tear it down again… This election should be seen as a referendum on Medicare, and called Labor’s proposed Medicare Gold the biggest single extension to the system since Labor invented it in the 80s.
Kerry Nettle spoke for the Greens, calling for a ‘big picture’ reform if the system was to get away from the current buck-passing between the two levels of government. She backed the demand for a redirection of the funds currently spent subsidising private health insurance – the private health industry was the only industry favoured with such a redirection of public money.
Tim Woodruff was scathing in reference to Tony Abbott’s comments on health as a market place, where doctors should be free to charge what they like, and the patient must expect to have to pay. He regretted that John Howard could not bring himself to be as honest as his deputy, John Anderson, who let it slip recently that ‘what we really want is a 2-tiered health system.’ He told of a recent case of a pensioner whose doctor had finally, but reluctantly, introduced a co-payment – when she ended up in hospital it turned out she had not been to the doctor again, ‘because she thought she would get better, and her budget was tight at the time, and she couldn’t afford the extra $10.’ At present there are practices in the Bendigo area where doctors simply refuse to see patients who can’t pay, even if they are referred by social workers; relying on doctors’ charity would not be a wise move…
According to Leigh Hubbard, 70% of unionists surveyed in marginal seats regarded health as the main issue in this election. In 1987, Howard declared he was determined to get rid of bulk billing, and he hadn’t changed his mind since… he was ‘the butcher of bulk billing.’ The safety net was a shift of health care towards the values of the Coalition, the market place. He warned that it would be revamped after the elction if the coalition was returned – there had been a $600 million blow-out, and this money would have to be recovered somehow. Pointing to the banners of the ANF he noted a recent analysis by the nurses’ union which had highlighted the failures of Coalition policy in such areas as funding for training, and ended by recalling that it had been unions and Labor who had built Medicare in the first place, saved it already once before, and now had to do it again next Saturday.
The final speaker before the mike was declared open was Joseph Toscano of the Defend and Extend Medicare group, who warned that establishing health care as a right not a luxury was not something that was going to be achieved simply by voting next Saturday, but would need an ongoing struggle involving individuals. The Parliamentary process was a ‘leap of faith’, where you hope that promises will be carried out. “…what happens is that every three years you have an option. Somebody wins, somebody loses. And at the end of the day the community itself usually loses out …” So this would not be the end, even if there was a change of government next weekend.