‘Post-Truth Politics’



Or, How the ALP Should Play the Game of Political Pragmatism, Just Not as the Hollow Man Abbott Does.

So, you will by now have had seared into your brains the immortal words Tony Abbott uttered to his party room this past week: “In a choice between policy purity and political pragmatism, I'll take pragmatism every time.”

Peter Hartcher meticulously explained the context around that statement in his column on the weekend.  

I was compelled to unpack Abbott's statement and reflect upon what it meant with respect to contemporary politics, and especially Climate Change politics and for the Labor Party.

Let's just start by saying that, in terms of policy, it would be safe to make the case that the Gillard government is in many ways an old small 'l' Liberal government, probably not too dissimilar to one in which Malcolm Turnbull would feel comfortable, except for some philosophical differences around the edges which most governments usually accommodate. In fact, it could be said that because the Labor government has forsaken a more radically Left Wing agenda it has bled votes to The Greens. Except, of course, with respect to the Keynesian response to the economic crisis, which saw a lot of those voters come back into the ALP fold and then drift away again over Asylum Seekers and Climate Change. Other than that the initiatives the Gillard government have worked on have been 'Middle of the Road', veering a little to the Right or Left, as necessary. Such as the Health and Hospitals package which incorporated Case Mix Funding, and localised Community Boards to run Public Hospitals, as opposed to control from a Central Planning HQ. Also the NBN is being built by the government because that is the pragmatic and practical course of action, but it is going to be privatized as soon as the government feels it's right to do so.

The same has applied to Education policy. They do not seek to re-run the real Class War which would see Private Schools asked to rely on their own school-levied fees to educate children and Public Schools funded lavishly at their expense.

They are for Free Trade and the Free Market with light touch regulation.

Even their approach to tackling Climate Change is more pro the market than Tony Abbott's 'Picking Winners and Losers' approach from Central Planning HQ in Canberra.

They haven't even placed any real strictures on Middle Class Welfare entitlements, or massively increased the dole to an amount an unemployed person could comfortably live on. Though that's probably for pragmatic rather than ideological reasons. Or is it?

Thus essentially we can agree that the three biggest initiatives of the Rudd and Gillard governments: the NBN, built by government but then privatised at an appropriate time; the Health and Hospitals package - Local Boards and Case Mix Funding; and the ETS/Cap and Trade model for dealing with Climate Change, are small 'l' Labor government in action.

So, what have we seen as a result of these moves into 'small l' territory from the Liberal Party? Tony Abbott consistently deciding to move his party further to the Right, or to the Libertarian Left if you think about his Climate Change policy, where government picks a few winners but generally stays out of the game and leaves it to Private Industry to decide what to do. Nevertheless, the overriding move has been further to the Right under Abbott, and especially as the ALP government has increasingly colonised the middle political ground, which these days has veered to the Centre Right in the electorate's preference. Whether you and I like it or not.

This move has been made by Abbott to differentiate himself and his party from the Gillard government for reasons of political pragmatism, but also for ideological reasons. Though I'm sure that policies, such as an ETS, which Howard and Turnbull took to the 2007 election were compromises the Liberal Party were forced to accept and take to the people so as to attempt to forestall their inevitable defeat and to keep some skin in the 2007 game of Climate Change policy. I mean, as we are now seeing, the Coalition would more likely be happier to just let their supporters in Fossil Fuel Mining and Carbon-Intensive Industries, carry on regardless of the consequences to the Climate.

However, what I do know is that the positions the Coalition are forced to hold on many issues are just a thin veneer which covers their underlying determination to inevitably achieve their core goals, which they have doggedly pursued for decades: reducing taxes on the wealthy, or 'giving people's money back to them' as the Coalition have styled it, which encompasses Middle Class Welfare as well because they can't get away with advocating a large reduction in Personal Income Tax for the wealthy, as they do in America, so they have exploited the Tax and Transfer mechanism, without Means Testing in the main, as their way of getting the money back into the hands of the already well-off, just by another means. At one and the same time however, the Conservatives argue for the dismantling of the Post-War Social Welfare State. You can see this in Abbott's plans for no more 'passive welfare' which would see all welfare recipients moved on to some sort of unskilled work gang situation in order to be able to get money from the government in order to keep hand to mouth existence going. He has already mentioned sending unemployed young people to work on farms picking fruit for their dole, and with a straight face belying its Dickensian undertones also spoke of sending them to the mines.

Interestingly, as has been observed elsewhere, no such strictures are being advocated by Mr Abbott to be placed upon the well-off in return for their taxpayer-largesse to pay their bills for Private Health, Private Education and Maternity Leave from their well-paid jobs. Quite the opposite. Mr Abbott can't wait to shovel government revenue out the door to them quickly enough, with no strings attached and no questions asked.

Finally, in the Conservative ideological troika, of course, has been their overweening desire to 'free' corporate entities from government regulation, such that they can generate more profit for their shareholders, as opposed to revenue for the State, in order that they may make money at will and without control over how they do it, especially with respect to the effect they have on the environment, or the workforce, along the way.

So, for decades, since the Reagan/Thatcher tectonic shift in the Conservative political paradigm around the world, Conservative parties of the Right have pursued their goals determinedly. Sometimes that has meant short-term compromises and half-measures, for example, the GST compromise with the Australian Democrats, and the belated 'Fairness Test' for WorkChoices. Sometimes it's meant exploiting Culture War resentments, in fact inventing the 'Culture Wars'. Who can forget Howard's exploitation of it and Janet Albrechtsen's infamous quote: 'We're all Conservatives now.' It was a 'War' fought in order to drag the electorate around to their way of seeing the world. Sometimes it has meant a pose of moderation, 'Compassionate Conservatism'. For example, the Northern Territory Intervention, which occurred after a brutish decade of Assimilationist policy by the Howard government based upon his single-minded aim to see the end of the Indigenous Determination agenda left in place by Hawke and Keating, resting upon the foundation of The Native Title Act.

The seemingly-compassionate intervention in the Northern Territory was ostensibly on behalf of the suffering exposed in the 'Little Children Are Sacred Report'. Instead, what we got, when you looked closely at it, was a thin veneerial sham of action in order to advance further Howard's desire to destroy the Native Title Act once and for all, crush the Indigenous Homelands movement, and Indigenous Self-Determination, leave the land free from Indigenous control for the Miners to come into and exploit, and to continue the push of the Assimilationist agenda by forcing the inhabitants out of the homelands by restricting their basic services, and into the big towns and cities to be absorbed. Some compassion. Very definitely Conservative.

So, very often - almost always - for the Conservatives it has meant couching their agenda in other terms, via 'political pragmatism', since the agenda is, if you poll these ideas directly, wildly unpopular with the public. Australians generally still want the rich taxed enough, the Social Safety Net preserved, and corporate entities over-sighted by government to prevent their worst excesses from harming the environment and the little guy.

The Coalition thus talks about 'taxes' and 'spending' and 'regulation' in the abstract, never explicitly articulating their real agenda for those areas, since Australians generally oppose those concepts in the abstract while they support their more specific manifestations. The Coalition talk about cutting the Deficit, even as they propose policies which would increase the Deficit, such as with Tony Abbott's 'Direct Action' Climate Change policy, and his generous to the wealthy Paid Parental Leave Scheme, and with wanting to keep Defence spending unfettered, and, of course, with never wanting to Means Test Middle Class Welfare, and constantly thinking of new sorts of tax churn to introduce to satisfy his core covert desire to see the wealthy contribute as little as possible to the Progressive idea of the Welfare State.

So we hear the Coalition talk about 'Free Markets' even as they subsidise Fossil Fuels – an argument that was had between Nick Minchin and Tony Abbott this last week, and which was the genesis of the now infamous Abbott quote.

In short, the Coalition have mastered 'Post-Truth Politics'. They've realised that their rhetoric doesn't have to bear any resemblance to their policy agenda. They can go through different slogans, different rationales, different fights, depending on the political landscape of the moment. They need not feel bound by previous slogans, rationales, or fights. They've realised that policy is policy and politics is politics and they can push the former while waging the latter battle on its own terms. The two have become entirely unmoored from each other.

So, it's not strictly true that they 'moved Right' when Rudd and Gillard took office. They just adopted a new political strategy, especially when Abbott took over from Turnbull, of total, unremitting, hysterical oppositionalism. Tony Abbott accurately foresaw that it was the only thing that could revive the battered party, who were down in the polls after 'Utegate', and it has paid off handsomely thus far. Also, as a result of their poll success, the Conservatives are becoming less and less reticent about voicing their real agenda because the agenda itself has not changed whilst they have been in Opposition. Just think about how sometimes various Coalition MPs bring the ghost of WorkChoices up and attempt to breathe new life into it even while Tony Abbott keeps declaring to the public it is “Dead, Buried and Cremated”.

The failed political logic, it seems to me, behind the majority of the time of the Rudd and Gillard governments, such as the negotiation with Turnbull of an ETS, then abandonment of it altogether, and the re-negotiation of the MRRT away from the RSPT, to make it more palatable to the vested interests who had turned their guns on the original proposal, is that the failure that lies behind these concessions was the thought that the other side would be made quiescent as a result of the concessions made, and that the government would get credit for acquiescing to popular demand and for being reasonable, 'Centrist', and actually politically pragmatic. As the polls and subsequent election showed, that was most definitely not the case. I think they believed they would get credit for compromising, which would translate into votes, victory and political momentum and capital. That has been their basic approach. Unfortunately, it reflects a naïve policy literalism that is absolutely ubiquitous on the Left. Don't they realise 'Good guys finish last' in politics? Not that I'm saying that you should not aim to be good, but that that is not all you should aim for.

What happened instead? On policy after policy, Rudd especially began with grand, high ideals, but was forced by the Opposition, essentially because of the arithmetic of the Senate, and the Opposition's decision to 'pragmatically' oppose everything, to make magnanimous concessions, in order to have any hope of getting anything through the Senate, which he didn't anyway a lot of the time. So he adopted Centre Right policies, and bled votes on his left to The Greens.

Also, every concession to the Right and adoption of some of their policies was still attacked by them in some way, shape or form, especially post-Turnbull, no matter how many concessions had been made, and which is still the case with respect to the MRRT, where Colin Barnett has rounded on the conceded ground as it has morphed from the RSPT to the MRRT, and attacked it again by raising State Royalties in defiance of the concessional deal. He's also trying it on with the Health and Hospitals Reform Package.

Now, from a naïve, positivist point of view, the media and other elite referees of public debate should be calling foul. The Coalition should have been penalised in the media for opposing and maligning policies that they'd supported not that long ago, for brazenly lying, and for rejecting all attempts at compromise. They chose the strategy; the strategy should have been explained plainly to the public.

But the crucial fact of 'Post-Truth Politics' is that there are no more referees. There are only players. The Right has its own media, its own facts, its own world. In that world the Climate isn't warming, and 'Direct Action' can do its bit to solve the Global Warming crisis. The government can continue to try to craft new 'Centrist' policies all day, but with the media the way it is there is no mechanism to convey that centrism to the broader public. There is no judge settling disputes or awarding points. There is just commentary, which either suggests it's a wrong thing to do from a Right perspective, or from a Left perspective, and thus it is simply perceived as craven concessionalism and not Centrism. The strategy – achieve political advantage through policy concessions – has failed. The government's approval ratings are down as a result. Best stick to some core principles instead and be rewarded for it.

Yet there still seems to be this craving, by many self-styled pragmatic, post-partisan moderates, to take the politics out of politics. To have an Adult Conversation. To be 'Reasonable People', to draw forth other Reasonable People with the power of ideas only and together to transcend petty partisan squabbling and 'Move Forward' with a 'Common Sense Agenda' based on 'Shared Values' (are you tingling all over yet?).

It's a nice idea but it's not how politics works. Just look at the polls since the hyper-politically pragmatic Tony Abbott took control of the Coalition, distasteful as it is to admit it. There appears to not be a huge swathe of uncommitted independently-minded voters out there waiting to be persuaded. Many, many voters, if the polls are to be believed, have fallen in behind the Uber politically pragmatic, Policy Free Zone that is Mr Abbott. Why? He knows how to sell his point of view. The selling points of the Conservative agenda – small government, free markets, jingoistic patriotism – have no motive force on their own. They are not binding and support no intellectual consistency. Which is why the endless, tiresome charges of philosophical hypocrisy from the Left are so fruitless. They are the politics, not the policy, and the two are not connected from the Opposition's point of view.

The policy, the motive force among the conservative elites, the real elites, the ones they NEVER talk about, is a defence of an oligarchic status quo ante, before the Welfare State, and a redistribution of wealth upwards. It is those voices that speak in the ears of our political class and their agenda that commands the assent of one and a half of our political parties. It's not hard to see why our political system is choked with veto points, vulnerable to motivated minorities, lobby groups if you will. It is insulated from public opinion, and it floods the political parties and the media with its money.

It is genuinely difficult to say therefore what, if anything, can rally the Left's diverse constituencies into a formidable political force capable of counterbalancing the influence of the country's oligarchy. The much-maligned Greens have had a pretty damn strong run at it. Environmentalists, from a standing start have pulled together a coalition of businesses, religious groups, unions and social justice groups. In a sane world, that's what success looks like. But in our political system it's just not been enough. Labor is still there as one of the two major political parties, so with the ALP we need to place our trust for Progressive political successes. The Greens are going to be hammered even more by the oligarchs in the future than Labor is. And Labor are the party of government anyway. This is also why The Greens have to know that they must compromise on the new Climate Change legislation. They must learn the art of political pragmatism too.

Now, many believe that policy differences are at the root of the failure to dethrone fossil fuels. It's just the wrong ideas, the wrong '5 Point Plan'. A different mix with more of this and less of that will bring the Reasonable People out of the woodwork in support. Again that forlorn, undying hope that the politics can be taken out of...politics.

No, the government and the MPCCC have to negotiate a good package of policies and go out and get the politics spot on in order to sell it to the electorate. The Reasonable People will not magically materialise in support of it and Tony Abbott and the Coalition of Fossil Fuel backstops will be using 'political pragmatism', as wrong and offensive as it may be to our delicate sensibilities, to attack it relentlessly. Because the referees in the media have vacated the field for the most part and are unlikely to call it in the government's favour anyway, no matter how reasonable are the policy prescriptions because it is not in their proprietor's interests to do so.

So. Policy is policy. Politics is politics. First you figure out what you want – for example, in my case I, like the government, want Clean Energy, appropriate land and water use, and economic justice – and then you grasp every opportunity with both hands to make progress towards those goals. Meanwhile you wage political war with the tools of politics: money, message, organisation, solidarity, and a healthy dose of ruthless opportunism.

Just like Tony Abbott.

Policy concessions aren't just a poor weapon in that war, they are no weapon at all.

Just ask Kevin Rudd.

I think that the government, if they use these weapons can prove they are hard-core politicians willing to fight to the political death for what they truly believe in, and they will thus be able to cause the political death of the Hollow Man of politics, who fights only with political pragmatism not policy, Tony Abbott.

What do you think?

Julia Gillard’s Fireside Chat - Your Heath Mark 2

This is a second attempt to craft a set of messages about health that PM Gillard might transmit, modified in the light of your comments and suggestions, some of which have been included verbatim. An attempt has been made to generalize and personalize the ‘chat’ using ‘we’, ‘us’, and some personal anecdotes. Please note that these are fictitious and are simply included to illustrate the value of the personal approach. I have no knowledge of PM Gillard’s experiences in the health area, but she must have had many which would allow her to add a personal touch to what she says.

So this is Mark 2. Please feel free to make further suggestions about how it might be improved. It would be satisfying to at least get the message pretty right. Delivering it is another matter, which needs to be dealt with also, but in your comments it would make for more balanced discourse if you could comment on the content of the message and the process of delivery separately. In regard to the latter, there is the question of the most appropriate media for delivering the messages, and of course Julia Gillard’s style of delivery.

I suggest you read it just as it comes at you, rather than trying to pick the difference from the first version. I look forward to your further feedback. For me, this has been an informative exercise.

Your Health


Good Evening

Tonight I want to talk to you about your health and the health of your community.

All of us know how important good health is to us. It gives us feelings of wellbeing. It makes it possible for us achieve our ambitions.

We know too that a healthy community is a good place in which to live, and a healthy workforce makes for high productivity and prosperity.

Yet many of us are not well; not all have the best of health. This is why we need a good health care system.

It is up to governments, both federal and state, to give all of you the best opportunity to lead healthy, happy, productive lives by providing easily accessible and affordable health services near to where you live.

Yet I have spoken with mothers and fathers who have had great difficulty getting a doctor when they needed need one, and have endured long waits, often in overcrowded hospital emergency departments. One solution was to build GP Super Clinics [images of interior of Super Clinics with just a few patients] where communities requested them, so that these parents can get quick access to good care when they need it, especially after hours. Another solution was to train many more primary care doctors and nurses to overcome the shortage we now experience.

Because much of the illness in the community is preventable, great emphasis has been placed on primary care that is given by your family doctor, your GP, or a community nurse. Your GP [images of a female GP consulting with a mother and child] is trained to prevent illness through immunization and advocating a healthy lifestyle. GPs are also trained to detect illness in its early stages when it is most treatable, as well as treating established disease.

Lifestyle conditions afflict too many in this country. We can all see that obesity is widespread, even among children, [images of obese persons] and combined with physical inactivity and a poor diet too often leads to heart problems, diabetes, joint problems and some cancers.

Alcohol and substance abuse, [images of social effects of alcohol] along with smoking, have caused havoc. Binge drinking, especially among the young, has reached alarming proportions. Alcopops legislation has reduced the sale of these products, so attractive to adolescents yet so dangerous.

Smoking kills over 15,000 Australians each year and costs well over half a billion dollars in healthcare. In a further attempt to reduce smoking plain packaging for cigarettes with dire health warnings will soon be introduced [images of Nicola Roxon with plain packages and warnings]. The tobacco industry is fighting this tooth and nail because it believes it will reduce its profits, but I am determined to press ahead because we believe plain packaging will discourage young people from taking up this dangerous habit.

Mental illness is on the rise. Is there any one of us who has not been touched by it in our family or amongst our friends or workmates? It is affecting both old and young. Suicide is high and leaves tragedy in its wake. Last year 2000 people took their own lives; 300 were young people between 15 and 24.

The 2010 Australian of the Year, Professor Pat McGorry, [image of Pat McGorry with Julia Gillard] has strongly advocated for increased funding for mental health for the ‘headspace’ and other programs, so in this year’s budget several billion dollars was committed for this purpose over the next four years. Mental health must be a top priority.

As the population ages, the number of older people needing support is rising steadily [images of older people in their homes]. I see them as I travel around the country. As more and more baby boomers reach retiring age the demand for services for the elderly and places in retirement homes will rise steeply and place even greater pressure on this sector [images of nursing homes]. We must respond by providing more qualified staff, more carers, and more facilities to care for our older citizens. Carers are in special need of our support [images of carers caring for patients].

We know that the incidence of serious chronic illness, such as cancer, is rising. A few years ago my best friend was diagnosed with breast cancer. I saw at first hand the excellent quality of the medical care she received, but also came to understand that the personal support from family and friends, and the physical environment in which she received her care, were also vitally important to a good outcome. Because she was a country girl the stress on her young family was increased by the need to travel a long way to Adelaide for treatment, and too often be alone while doing so. She told me that it would have helped a great deal if a clinic had been available closer to home. [This anecdote is fictitious and used only as an example]. The cancer clinics that have been built in regional areas in the recent times, [several images of cancer clinics, perhaps with one being opened by the PM] like the one recently announced for Albury, are the result of that conversation, both of us in tears.

We have leading researchers in this field; now I want to support them properly for the next round of breakthroughs in cancer treatment. One day I hope no one will have a young friend dying from breast cancer like I did.

Many people living in rural and regional areas have told me that distance from large specialized centres has been a crippling burden. One of the benefits of the National Broadband Network [images of NBN installations, perhaps the opening of the Armidale one] is that it will reduce that remoteness by enabling consultations between rural patients and city specialists via super fast broadband [moving image of a remote consultation].

The NBN will enable monitoring of the chronically ill in their homes, which will reduce the pressure on hospitals and nursing homes [image of elderly person monitored at home], and e-health will enable your health records to be available to any health care provider that you consult, no matter where [image of health record on a computer].

And the increasing prevalence of disability in both old and young demands our attention, to them and their carers. I have seen the burden that carers carry; we must support them wherever they are. [images of disabled persons with carers]. The NBN will bring support closer to those in remote places.

It is a depressing fact of life that dementia is becoming more and more common. I see many with dementia on my visits to nursing homes, and the sadness that brings to them, their family and their carers. [more images of older persons with Julia Gillard]. We must provide for them and their carers.

With the aging of the population the cost of health care will continue its steady rise to the point where at mid century all of a state’s budget will be consumed by health care costs alone, leaving none for other essential services, unless different funding arrangements are made.

This is why the Federal Government has entered into an arrangement with the states to share healthcare costs, with 50% being funded by the Commonwealth [image of COAG meeting over the health care agreement].

Federal and state governments will contribute to a single national pool for hospital funding to be administered by an independent national funding body. Hospitals will be funded based on the activity they undertake. Independent local hospital networks [images of local hospitals, staff and patients] will be responsible for managing public hospital services and the funding to provide those services.

This will take some of the pressure off state health departments and will give greater responsibility to those actually delivering the care.

The new arrangements are designed to contain rising costs and reduce the far-too-long waiting times for elective surgery and the long periods in hospital emergency rooms that we all know ill patients endure while waiting for treatment or admission.

We are determined to remedy the problems with the hospital system we all know about by providing enough beds, sufficient well-trained staff and easy and rapid access.

The Government strongly supports Medicare, the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme, Private Health Insurance, which we believe should be means tested, and medical research.

Healthcare, along with education, are at the top of the Government’s priorities. It has already devoted countless billions to health, and in the recent budget has allocated still more.

Compared with other countries we know that Australia has a fine health care system, but we also know that it can be improved in many areas.

We are determined to bring about these improvements and to complete the health reforms begun in the Government’s last term so that all Australians can have the high quality health care and support that all deserve, where they live and when they need it.

I ask that you join with me in achieving that aim. I need your help and support.

Thank you for your attention.

Postscript

Please note that the anecdotes in this piece are fictitious and are used simply as examples.

What do you think of Mark 2?

Julia Gillard’s Fireside Chats – Your Health

This is the second of a series in which contributors to The Political Sword are attempting to fashion examples of messages that our Prime Minister might give in her 'Fireside Chats'.

The idea of Fireside Chats came from David Horton in a piece titled: The ragged trousered philanthropist on The Watermelon Blog. He spoke of when US President Franklin Roosevelt successfully used ‘fireside chats’ in 1929 during his term as Governor of New York. In this country, RG Menzies’ weekly broadcasts by radio during 1942 were similarly successful. They are well documented in the Menzies Virtual Museum.  

The Rudd Government, and now the Gillard Government, has embarked on many reforms that will benefit both our economy and the lives of our people. The Government has a need to explain to the people what it has achieved, what it is planning, and particularly why it is proposing the substantial reforms it is. The idea behind ‘Fireside Chats’ is to clearly and unemotionally explain these important matters in terms that all can understand and accept.

This Fireside Chat is about health, and as that is not as gripping a subject as NormanK’s ‘A Price on Carbon’, I have kept it short – about ten minutes in duration. The words of the ‘chat’ have been kept simple and the message personalized by frequent use of the words ‘you’ and ‘your’.

In his book Sideshow: Dumbing Down Democracy, Lindsay Tanner quotes Robert MacNeil a former executive editor of a major American TV news show: “The idea is to keep everything brief, not to strain the attention of anyone but instead to provide constant stimulation through variety, novelty, action and movement…(assuming) that bite-sized is best, that complexity must be avoided, that nuances are dispensable, that qualifications impede the simple message, that visual stimulation is a substitute for thought, and that verbal precision is an anachronism.” As this is congruent with our own observations, particularly of commercial TV news, it is incumbent on anyone creating a fireside chat to observe these restrictions lest the message be lost.

Therefore to make the chat more eye-catching than the PM simply talking to the camera, graphics would be superimposed at appropriate places during the chat in a ‘picture in picture’ format in, say, the left top corner, as this is something to which a short attention span audience is accustomed. The placement of the graphics and the subjects of the images are in square brackets in italics in the text below. The PM would be visible at all times against a dignified background, possibly in parliament house.

 



Your Health



Good Evening

Tonight I want to talk to you about your health and the health of your community.

We know how important good health is to us all. It makes it possible for us achieve our ambitions. It gives us feelings of wellbeing. We know too that a healthy community is a good place in which to live, and a healthy workforce makes for high productivity.

Yet many are not well; not all have the best of health. This is why we need a good health care system.

Your Government is dedicated to giving all of you the best opportunity to lead healthy happy lives by providing easily accessible and affordable health services near to where you live.

Yet many of you have had difficulty getting a doctor when you need one, and have endured long waits, often in overcrowded hospital emergency departments. So we have built GP Super Clinics [images of interior of Super Clinics with just a few patients] where communities have requested them, so that you can get quick access to good care when you or your family need it, especially after hours.

Because much of the illness in the community is preventable, we have placed great emphasis on primary care that is given by your family doctor, your GP, or a community nurse. We have funded the training of many more doctors and nurses to overcome the shortage.

GPs [images of a female GP consulting with a mother and child] are trained to prevent illness through immunization and advocating a healthy lifestyle. They are also trained to detect illness in its early stages when it is most treatable, as well as treating established disease.

Lifestyle conditions afflict too many in this country. Obesity is widespread, even among children, [images of obese persons] and combined with physical inactivity and a poor diet too often leads to heart problems, diabetes, joint problems and some cancers. Alcohol and substance abuse, [images of social effects of alcohol] along with smoking, have caused havoc, especially among the young.

That is why your Government has taken action to curb binge drinking in teenagers through its alcopops legislation, [images of alcopops being consumed by adolescent girls] which has reduced the sale of those products, so attractive to adolescents yet so dangerous.

In a further attempt to reduce smoking, the Government will soon introduce plain packaging for cigarettes with dire health warnings [images of Nicola Roxon with plain packages and warnings]. The tobacco industry is fighting this tooth and nail because it believes it will reduce its profits, but we are determined to press ahead because we believe plain packaging will discourage young people from taking up this dangerous habit that kills over 15,000 Australians each year and costs well over half a billion dollars in healthcare.

The prevalence of mental illness is on the rise and is affecting both old and young. Suicide is high and leaves tragedy in its wake. Last year 2000 people took their own lives; 300 were young people between 15 and 24. Substance abuse is rising and with it violence.

The 2010 Australian of the Year, Professor Pat McGorry, [image of Pat McGorry with Julia Giillard] has strongly advocated for increased funding for mental health for the ‘headspace’ and other programs, so in this year’s budget several billion dollars was allocated for this purpose over the next four years. Mental health is a top priority for the Government.

As the population ages, the number of older people needing support is rising steadily [images of older people in their homes]. As more and more baby boomers reach retiring age the demand for services for the elderly and places in retirement homes will rise steeply and place great pressure on this sector [images of nursing homes with residents].

The incidence of serious chronic illness in older people, such as cancer, will rise, and dementia will become more and more prevalent [more images of older persons with Julia Gillard].  And the prevalence of disability in both old and young demands our attention [images of disabled persons with carers].

Governments must respond by providing more qualified staff, more carers, and more facilities to care for our our elderly and disabled citizens. Your Government is acutely aware of what needs to be done and has allocated funding in this year’s budget. Carers are in special need of support [images of carers caring for patients].

In the 2009-10 budget a multi-million dollar allocation was made to build a network of cancer clinics, particularly in regional areas [several images of cancer clinics, perhaps with one being opened by the PM]. Many have been built and one for the Albury region was announced recently. These bring cancer care closer to those who suffer from this distressing condition.

Remoteness from large specialized centres has been a longstanding drawback for those living in rural and regional areas. The National Broadband Network [images of NBN installations, perhaps the opening of the Armidale one] will reduce that remoteness by enabling consultations between rural patients and city specialists via super fast broadband [moving image of a remote consultation]. It will enable monitoring of the chronically ill and disabled in their homes and will thereby reduce the pressure on hospitals and nursing homes [image of elderly person monitored at home], and e-health will enable your health records to be available to any health care provider that you consult, no matter where [image of health record on a computer].

With the aging of the population the cost of health care will continue its steady rise to the point where at mid century all of a state’s budget will be consumed by health care costs alone, leaving none for other essential services, unless different funding arrangements are made.

This is why the Federal Government has entered into an arrangement with the states to share healthcare costs, with 50% being funded by the Commonwealth [image of COAG meeting over the health care agreement].

Federal and state governments will contribute to a single national pool for hospital funding to be administered by an independent national funding body. Hospitals will be funded based on the activity they undertake. Independent local hospital networks [images of local hospitals, staff and patients] will be responsible for managing public hospital services and the funding to provide those services.

This will take some of the pressure off state health departments and will give greater responsibility to those actually delivering the care.

The new arrangements are designed to contain rising costs and reduce the far-too-long waiting times for elective surgery and the long periods in hospital emergency rooms that ill patients endure while waiting for treatment or admission.

We are determined to remedy the problems with the hospital system we all know about by providing enough beds, sufficient well-trained staff and easy and rapid access.

The Government strongly supports Medicare, the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme, Private Health Insurance, which we believe should be means tested, and medical research.

Your Government places healthcare, along with education, at the top of its priorities. It has already devoted countless billions to health, and in the recent budget has allocated still more.

Compared with other countries we know that Australia has a fine health care system, but we also know that it can be improved in many areas.

Your Government is determined to bring about these improvements and to complete the health reforms begun in the Government’s last term so that all Australians can have the high quality health care and support that all deserve, where they live and when they need it.

I ask that you join with me in achieving that aim.

Thank you for your attention.

Postscript
Is this what the public needs and wants to know about the health system?

Would they listen to it?

What do you think?

A Minder, kinder, gentler polity

It’s an early morning start for Tony “Arthur Daley” Abbott at his ACTION MOTORS car-yard (“Arthur’s Commodores – Trade-Ins Or Newies”).



However, as he alights from his car, he can’t help noticing that his rivals across the road (Gillard’s NBN MOTORS – “Net a Bentley Now”), even at this early hour, are managing, unlike him, to do a roaring trade.

On his way to the portacabin that he calls his ‘office’, Arthur passes by the big tree that is the centrepiece of his display-yard. “Great tree, that”, Arthur mutters to himself. “When the customers see that, they think I’m serious about this carbon-capturing Real Action clap-trap...hee...hee..."

However, under the tree, Arthur notices a set of stepladders. “Jeeze...better put them away”, he thinks to himself, “or one of those leftie union thugs will pass by and half-inch them on me”. Arthur grabs the stepladders, opens his office door and places them inside. Therein, moreover, a further shock meets his eyes. He had strategically placed a nice photo of himself in his speedos on the board opposite, so that the mug punters entering the office would spot his muscular physique, and buy a Commodore so that they also could look as manly as him. However, some joker had drawn a pair of specs, a bra, and a comb-over on his pristine photographic likeness!

Arthur’s visceral feelings of hatred towards the perpetrator, however, are interrupted by the sudden entrance into the office of the agitated figure of Malcolm “Dave” Turnbull, the rich owner of the ‘exclusive gentlemen’s club’, the Winchester. Dave obviously has a bone to pick with Arthur.

Dave: Righto, Arthur...I think I’ve given you enough time to pay me back the money I loaned you...

Arthur: Oh, keep your hair on, Dave – you know I’ll pay you back when the Indos ditch those Bentleys Gillard gave them on that discount deal...Soon, they’ll all come over here and buy a Commodore from me at top dollar price...heh...heh...

[Dave is just about to remind Arthur that there is as much chance of the Indos doing business with him, as there would be with Paris Hilton taking a vow of poverty, when, in the background, they hear plaintive cries for help.]

Arthur: What’s that bloody racket? Sounds like somebody’s life’s in danger...

Dave: Yeah – sounds like Joe at the Press Club when he couldn’t answer any of the journos’ questions on the economy...hee...hee...

[Arthur and Dave step outside to investigate and, sure enough, hanging onto a tree branch for dear life, is Arthur’s trusty minder, Joe “Terry McCann” Hockey.]

Terry (pleading): Help! Anyone! For pity’s sake, someone put the stepladder back – I can’t hold on here for ever!

Arthur: What the hell are you doing up the tree anyway, Terry?

Terry: I was putting up some coloured bunting to try and brighten the yard up, and some genius decided to remove the stepladder!

[Just to prolong Terry’s ordeal, Arthur ambles over to the office, slowly removes the ladders and returns, equally slowly, to the tree. He places them under Terry, who thankfully places his feet safely thereon.]

Terry: Phew! That was close! Jeeze, Arthur – I thought you were going to leave me swinging there in the wind for ever!

Arthur: No fear, mate...the only reason I saved you was to see the look on your face when I dock half your wages for vandalising my photo in the office...heh...heh...

Terry: Aw...get real, Arthur! I was only having a bit of fun – people are saying you are the love child of Sarah Palin and Donald Trump, aren’t they?

[Upon having his parentage called into question, Arthur stares menacingly at Terry, whilst simultaneously nodding his head in a decidedly non-rapturous fashion. Luckily for Terry, the ice is broken by the entrance into the car-yard of a potential customer – Barnaby Joyce.]

Barnaby: good morning, gentlemen...I seem to have run into a bit of bother with my four-wheel drive – actually, I wrote it off in a swollen creek...Any chance of a replacement?

Arthur: As much as it pains me to knock back some custom, old son, I think you need to head down to the Naval Dockyard instead and enquire about one of their surplus submersibles...hee...hee...

[If the day started off badly for Arthur, it didn’t get any better. Kevin Rudd dropped in, looking for a replacement for his old Mazda ute. However, when informed by Arthur that he only did Commodores, he promptly threw a wobbly and departed, saying he was going to report him to the United Nations. Julie Bishop was another sale-gone-wrong when she insisted on buying a Holden Replica, and nothing else. Again, she also did her nana, out-stared Arthur, and stormed out. But, the greatest disappointment for Arthur was the no-show, so far, of the Indos. He really needed their purchasing power. Then, as if all those prayers he had said when he was in the seminary had been just answered, he notices, driving up the street in their Bentleys, the Indos! He turns in rapturous anticipation to Dave, who had stuck around, not having any intention of leaving until he got his money back.]

Arthur: Halleluiah! The fatted calves cometh!

[However, much to Arthur’s devastation and disappointment, the Indos drive straight into Jooles’ yard, alight from their Bentleys and are immediately upgraded with their very own Rolls Royce Phantoms! A crestfallen Arthur turns to Dave.]

Arthur: Hmmm...it looks like you’re going to have to wait another while for your money, mate...

Dave: Yeah, looks that way, doesn’t it...And Rolls Royce Phantoms to boot...I think the only Rolls Royce you’re ever going to own, mate, is a Rolls Canardly...

Arthur: Yeah...it rolls down one hill and can-ardly get up the next...tell me about it...