Australia’s globally envied public health system is about to be strapped onto the Abbott government’s operating table and endure the razor gang’s knife. It will emerge slimmer and on life support.
Amid the hundreds of pages of Abbott’s first federal budget on May 13 will be the wilful steps to undermine the twin pillars of public health infrastructure, Medicare and Medibank, that three generations of Australians have been blessed to enjoy.
In Medicare’s place will arise an American-style system that turns health care into a fee-paying enterprise. Sure, you will still be able to see a GP and get a bed in a public hospital, but you will have to pay for it. At first, charges will be minimal – a friendly sounding ‘co-payment’ of $6 – but later fees will start to rise.
Not only will you be paying taxes to provide health care, you will be expected to make an additional ‘user pays’ payment as well.
Well-off people now paying $3,500 to $4,000 a year for private family health cover won’t escape either. The sale of the publicly owned Medibank Private will mean all health insurance providers will be part of the private sector. Whereas Medibank, the biggest of the 40 available funds with a 30 per cent market share, provided a brake on excessive premiums in the past, a fully privatised sector will quickly arrange to rort the system and charge what it likes.
Anyone who thinks that the Abbott government will regulate what private health insurers can charge is living in a dream world. Abbott and his crew share the US Republican/Tea Party view of life: ‘regulation’ is anti-free market and menacingly ‘socialist’.
On all current indications, none of the money from the asset sale, an estimated $4 billion, will be spent on health care – hospitals, staff, equipment or maintenance.
On the contrary, it will go straight to the banks as part of the coalition’s obsession with ‘debt reduction’.
Meanwhile, the three million Medibank policyholders should forget the notion that Abbott will distribute proceeds to them. Their loyalty will be ignored and the billions of dollars they contributed to building the fund since it was established in 1976 will be transferred into the pockets of the new (private) owners.
You can be certain of one thing: the incremental dismantling of Medicare as a free, universal public health service and the privatisation of Medibank guarantees bumper profits for the private health sharks. Macquarie Bank, Goldman Sachs, Credit Suisse and Bank of America Merrill Lynch are jostling for the hundred-million-dollar commissions to manage the Medibank share offering described in the business pages as ‘the biggest pitch of the year’. More like the biggest theft of the year.
The Strange Case of the Bottle of Grange sounds like a short mystery novel by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.
Although the 1959 vintage was not particularly memorable, it packed some punch because it has knocked Barry O’Farrell out of the premiership.
This was all the more surprising because he said under oath he did not recall receiving the noble drop or drinking it.
I can hear Dr Watson saying, ‘Perhaps he receives so much free Grange that it’s one damned bottle after another. Over the years, it is bound to have affected his memory.’
‘Don’t be silly,’ snaps Holmes. ‘It is not the volume or the quality of the Grange that matters. It is about who leaked the story. Cui bono? Who benefits?’
On March 6, the Daily Telegraph’s state political editor Andrew Clennell sent a text message to O’Farrell asking if he had received a bottle of Grange after his 2011 election victory.
O’Farrell replied: ‘Confirm no recollection or record of the alleged gift.’
Clennell decided he had no story and wrote nothing for his paper.
The media knew of the Grange gift on March 6 and O’Farrell was not called to the ICAC public hearing until April 15. In other words, the premier had six weeks to prepare an alibi … ahem … I mean organise his answers to inevitable questions about the $3,000 bottle of 1959 Penfolds Grange Hermitage.
At ICAC and subsequent press conferences he was adamant there was no bottle of Grange.
His case collapsed when Mr Di Girolamo found a handwritten note from O’Farrell in his private papers saying: ‘Dr Nick & Jodie (Girolamo’s wife), We wanted to thank you for your kind note and the wonderful wine.’
He gave the letter to ICAC and O’Farrell’s political career was cactus.
In Baker Street, Holmes is saying, ‘We may never know all the answers, my dear Watson, but we do know that the leading political identities named and shamed at ICAC in the past year opened champagne – and Grange – over Easter.’
Alex Mitchell is a former Sun-Herald political editor and author of Come The Revolution: A Memoir, New South Books 2011.