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"...public opinion deserves to be respected as well as despised" G.W.F. Hegel, 'Philosophy of Right'

the politics of medicare « Previous | |Next »
November 27, 2003

In this piece in the Melbourne Age Kenneth Davidson says "I can't see why MedicarePlus is a political winner for the Howard Government. It does nothing to address the fundamental issues that concern voters about the Government's duplicity in its management of the health portfolio."

At one level the answer is simple. As Laurie Oaks writing in The Bulletin says MedicarePlus is a political package designed to provide the Coalition with political cover. It is designed to neutralize an issue that the ALP was starting to use to its own advantage. And Howard has probably succeeded in defusing health as a political problem for the Coalition.

MedicarePlus is not designed to address the fundamental issues that currently plague public health. It exposes Crean even more, puts more pressure on the ALP, feeds the conflicts within the ALP, and helps to keep the ALP demoralized at the prospect of another three years in opposition. Buying Senate support keeps the ALP on the ropes.

Davidson is right in his judgement that:

"The Howard Government (and the Fraser government before it) has been undeviating in its central health policy objective: to undermine the universal character of Medicare (and Medibank before it) and turn it into a safety net for the poor..."

The popularity of Medicare amongst Australian citizens means that it is difficult for right-wing governments to reverse the social democratic public health system, turn it into a two tier health system, and transform Medicare as a form of welfare. The political strategy is to characterise Medicare and bulk-billing as a system for the poor. This would then justify Government underfunding of the public health system, and legitimate tax cuts for those who refuse to acknowledge that health is a public good that should be paid through taxation.

We can read the politics of MedicarePlus in terms of electoral strategy for the next federal election. Howard is buying Senate support for bills that would count as a double dissolution trigger. He is avoiding a double dissolution election because it would weaken the Coalition's post election numbers and return more Australian Greens to the Senate.

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 1:43 PM | | Comments (1)


It's always bewildered me that Socalist Democrats think it's vital for Australian democracy that Medicare should be a global system rather then concentrating on the least well off.

Surely, the egalitarian view would be that the Medicare levy is best spent on low income earners?

I'll never understand the Left.