Leading article Australia

Calling Dr Hunt

19 January 2017

3:00 PM

19 January 2017

3:00 PM

Whatever she may think about her quaint attachment to the Gold Coast being ‘within the rules’, former Health minister Sussan Ley’s done the right thing by resigning.

Ms Ley’s fondness for Queensland’s sun and sand, building a property empire with assistance from the taxpayer, and chartering private planes on some of the busiest commercial air routes in the world, was beyond the pale, let alone the pub test. While it may seem unfair, given there have been so many other creative claimer MPs who have flown the proverbial helicopter through parliamentary expense rules, and the silly season meant there was intense interest in her misfeasance because nothing else was happening, Ms Ley had to go. The sad part for her is, now her political career is in ruins, her putting it over we taxpayers is what she’ll most be remembered for. As far as her two-year tenure of the health portfolio goes, Ms Ley has even less to show for it than Ozymandias’s broken statue standing in the desert.

Charged by Tony Abbott and Peta Credlin with restoring fractured relations with the Australian Medical Association and other powerful vested interests after the political misadventures of the 2014 budget, Ms Ley succeeded to a point. But beyond that, her record is a blank. As minister, she hit the ground reviewing, most notably initiating a systematic and still-running review of the Medicare schedule to bring it up to date and remove nice little earners for doctors no longer justified by evidence. But decisions there were none, and she showed no inclination for pursuing any healthcare reform that upset the doctors’ lobby. As a result, the Coalition went to last July’s election with a handful of initiatives but no health policy. It was an unforgivable vacuum filled all too easily by Bill Shorten and his disgraceful, dishonest Mediscare campaign. Ms Ley was missing in action, the government had no response and paid the electoral price.

Yet, post-election, Ms Ley inexplicably was reappointed and the government’s health policy drift continued. Malcolm Turnbull may have vented about Mediscare on election night, but showed no inkling since then that he’s heard the electorate’s resounding message that health and Medicare matter for voters. John Howard would have dropped everything to cauterise Mediscare’s gaping political wound: until Ms Ley’s extra-curricular activities became public a fortnight ago, Mr Turnbull tellingly did nothing.

To replace Ms Ley, the PM has shifted Industry, Innovation and Science minister Greg Hunt. While until now Mr Hunt has shown little interest in social policy except as it affects his Victorian electorate, he is a good choice. Mr Hunt actually takes an interest in making policy, backs himself, is willing to take tough and unpopular decisions, and has a sound political ear. Unlike his predecessor.

His brief is not merely to defuse Mediscare. It is to fill the policy vacuum that Ms Ley created, while keeping the health budget in check. He must turn the Ley reviews into some hard decision-making, and take on the states, the AMA and the whole motley crew of self-important rent-seekers.

The new minister’s first priorities are turning the Medicare schedule review into real efficiencies and savings, reforming private health insurance by challenging the price-taking medical specialists and hospitals that drive up premiums, and ensuring the government doesn’t cave to Labor’s populist rubbish that the system’s problems are solved simply by cutting nothing and throwing yet more billions at doctors and the perpetually-whingeing states. And co-payments shouldn’t be a dirty word either.

Mr Hunt was enjoying Industry, and may well be disappointed to be shunted to Health thanks to Ms Ley’s stupidity. But he should see himself as a heavy-hitter challenged to fix an untreated political and policy gangrene threatening the government’s survival. In doing so, he’d be following another shanghaied minister who didn’t want Health but turned a political liability into a great success: ‘the best friend Medicare ever had’, Tony Abbott.

2334 (Part 2)

This magazine makes no apology for its strong editorial position in support of Israel and against Obama’s insidious UN resolution 2334, including our Jan 7 cover equating it metaphorically to the Holocaust. We received plenty of vitriol over our articles and cover, including the accusation of being ‘in the pay’ of an ‘apartheid-style’ government. Ironically, and disappointingly, some left wing Jews took exception to our stance. All we can say is: following the strong global outcry, Obama and Kerry ditched plans for Part 2 of their betrayal. The proof of the bagel is etc.

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