The giant Medicare scare campaign

Back on 22 May I did a post Labor makes health central in its election bid:

    In revving up his election spiel Shorten said spending on health was an investment, not a cost. He says investment in health is basic to economic growth. It would be an important battleground if Turnbull would engage. The pointy end is that Labor is choosing to invest in Medicare and the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme rather than spending money on company tax relief.

    Turnbull just says it’s unfunded, which is a lie, and he knows it. (Emphasis added)

In fact, however, the media has very much focussed on a series of scare campaigns:

  • Negative gearing was going to smash house prices and with capital gains tax changes bring the economy to a grinding halt.
  • There were black holes everywhere in Labor’s spending plans. Labor was high taxing and high spending by nature in government, which would be economically disastrous.
  • Labor was conducting a war on business.
  • Labor and Bill Shorten in particular was a party in thrall to corrupt unions.
  • Under Labor people smugglers would have a hey day with boats once again flooding our shores.
  • And, of course, the prospect Labor forming an alliance with the dreaded Greens.

That’s just what I can think of, I may have missed some.

In his address at the ALP official election launch, Bill Shorten brought Medicare and health back to the centre of his campaign, but in doing so chose to emphasise that the LNP intended to privatise the Medicare payments system, which, he said, was the heart of Medicare.

Labor’s policies across health in ending the freeze on Medicare payments to GPs, hospital funding, pharmaceutical benefits, pathology and diagnostic imaging, mental health etc are superior to those of the LNP, so why did he choose to highlight possible privatising of health payments, which might actually be a good idea?

I suspect he targetted privatising the payments in order to “cut through”. It certainly did so, but at some cost to his credibility. Also it distracted from the real policy issues in the health policy space.

The media suddenly discovered scare campaigns in the election. For example, by Tuesday the Australian Financial Review ran the bold headline in an article by Jacob Greber Labor fear campaign exposed. The editors had buried on page four a story by their Chief Political Correspondent Phillip Coorey’s who usually occupies the front page. The article was Scare campaign? Physician, heal thyself. Funnily enough, I can’t find it on the internet.

Coorey said politicians use scare campaigns because they work. He highlighted Abbott’s 2013 carbon tax campaign, in this election negative gearing campaign and, he says, the one that has served them best of all, the ALP/Greens alliance.

By mid-week Turnbull, unhappy that we were talking about Medicare, moved the debate back to asylum seekers and turning boats around, combined with the horror prospect of an ALP/Green alliance. And this morning it was industrial relations in an essentially state issue about Victorian fire fighters.

Ian McAuley at New Matilda says Labor was returning to its true values. Shorten:

    “Medicare is the community standard, it’s the gold standard, it speaks to Australians about who we are. It’s an echo of an older, uncomplicated sense of solidarity, the belief that the health of any one of us matters to all of us. It’s also thoroughly modern economic policy.”

McAuley reminds us that Medibank vs private health insurance was central to Whitlam’s double dissolution election in 1974, which he won. Abbott is quoted as saying that “Private health insurance is in our DNA”. Health is seen as a growth industry; private operators want get an increasing slice of the market.

McAuley finishes:

    The Coalition’s proposal to outsource the Medicare payments system is only a peripheral issue, but it has provided a springboard for Shorten’s wider message that Medicare would not be safe under a Coalition government. And that’s simply because the Coalition’s track record on Medicare is poor.

    At every opportunity it has used regulatory and budgetary support for private insurance (now costing public revenue $11 billion a year) to undermine Medicare, which it has tried to redefine as a charity service for the poor or indigent.

    It has stuck doggedly to the mantra that private insurance relieves pressure on public hospitals, even though evidence is to the contrary (because private insurance actually draws resources away from private hospitals). And it has consistently refused to subject private health insurance to economic scrutiny.

    On the basis of the Coalition’s record in office, Shorten is absolutely right in warning that Medicare as we know it is at risk if the Coalition is re-elected.

Shorten has tried to use the payments system as a springboard for his wider massage about Medicare and health. On Tuesday:

    If you’re getting a mammogram, if the Government’s cuts go through and Mr Turnbull gets elected, it’s $100 more.

    If you’re getting breast cancer diagnosis, it’s going to cost $300 more. If you’re being treated for melanoma, it’ll be $1,000 more.


    In America they have a private system, which means that wherever you spend the health dollar, not only is the patient got to pay the government, you got to pay the owner of the company who are trying to make a profit.

    So you’ve got a medical system trying to serve two masters: the profit motive and the patient.

However, it didn’t work. Patricia Karvelas of RN Drive last night was still obsessing about the payments system, and shock horror, the sudden use of a scare campaign when Turnbull, ScoMo and company have been using them in plain sight for months, and are back at it again in spades. The last decent Labor scare campaign was Keating on the GST in 1991. Since then the most notable was Howard in 2001 on asylum seekers and boat people, and then in 2004, “Interest rates will always be lower under the Coalition”, followed by seven successive interest rate rises after he won government.

Turnbull is squarely responsible for wrecking reasonable policy debate this time with his response on negative gearing, and subsequent hysterical language using emotion and fear, but he is probably only doing what Textor told him he needs to do to win. We are all poorer for it.

6 thoughts on “The giant Medicare scare campaign”

  1. Today there’s a headline claiming that the ‘Turnbull coup’ will have saved the Coalition 29 seats that would have been lost by Mr Abbott.

    Haven’t been able to read the article.

  2. I’ve found an article in the Daily Terror.

    Try Googling ‘Samantha Maiden TONY Abbott’s survival as Prime Minister would have killed the government at the election’.

    Should get you there.

    Galaxy pollster David Briggs said:

    “Had Tony Abbott been leading the Coalition into this election the result would have been very different.

    “Primary support for the Coalition would be four percentage points lower,’’ he said.

    “A swing of this magnitude would have delivered Labor 29 seats and a sizeable majority in the new parliament.’’

  3. I’ve been working on a post on Labor’s costings, but it has been delayed because most of the media has been based on Scot Morrison’s response lines. Labor’s real story has disappeared. All that is left is a stick they made for the LNP and the media to beat then with.

    This morning I did find the stuff I need, but I have to go out and work between the rain periods predicted in what will for us probably be the coldest day of the year.

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