Boatpeople jump medicare queues?
Too-clever Shorten has given his political rivals a potential election-winning issue
by Ross Fitzgerald
Bill Shorten was too clever by half last week, and in more ways than people have yet noticed. By giving doctors the right to order boatpeople to Australia for medical assessment, he’s watered down Australia’s tough border protection regime, made deaths at sea more likely and drawn attention to an issue that’s the Coalition’s strength and Labor’s weakness.
He’s put national security at risk just to win a vote on the floor of the federal parliament and embarrass the government. And in putting politics ahead of the country, he’s cast grave doubt on his fitness for national leadership. To Labor’s embarrassment, that’s all been well and truly pointed out
But think about what Shorten’s really done in siding with the Greens and the more-Left-than-Labor independents. He’s saying that he wants boatpeople to receive medical treatment before Australians. That’s right, the boatpeople whom doctors order to Australia because they supposedly can’t be assessed and treated on Manus or Nauru (where there are more than 60 health professionals for about 400 would-be migrants) might jump the queue on almost a million Australians on the waiting list for treatment at public hospitals. These boatpeople won’t just have jumped the queue on those waiting patiently in refugee camps to be assessed before potentially coming legally and safely to Australia. Thanks to Labor, they might have jumped the queue on all who can’t get their hips done, or their heart fixed, or who sometimes can’t get in to see their specialist doctor for months or even years.
It’s going to be very hard to pose as the friend of Medicare when Labor supports Medicare for boatpeople ahead of Medicare for Australian citizens. So Shorten has not just exposed Labor to a (justified) scare campaign on border protection; he may even have jeopardised Labor’s ability to run a (fake) scare campaign on health.
Look at the stats. According to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, last financial year, 874,000 people were added to public hospital elective surgery waiting lists. Just under 2 per cent waited for longer than a year but that’s still almost 20,000 people; and often patients have to wait months to see a doctor before even getting on to the official waiting list. And in NSW, for example, the average wait for a total knee replacement was 281 days, or more than eight months. Then there’s the cost.
The AIHW says the median out-of-pocket cost for out-of-hospital Medicare services was $142 last year, and that 1.3 million Australians did not seek treatment at all or delayed seeking treatment because it was too expensive
If Labor decrees that the medivac cases from Nauru and Manus will join the queue, how can they really have an urgent need for assessment and treatment? If Labor says that they’ll be dealt with at taxpayer expense in the private system, how can giving boatpeople better access than Australians be justified?
It’s increasingly clear Labor MPs (or at least the dominant Left) are using health concerns as a pretext for closing down offshore processing altogether. They think it’s morally wrong to keep people out of Australia if they’re from poor countries and make the effort to get on people-smuggler boats. They think it’s more compassionate to bring boatpeople here than it is to stop them taking to sea in leaky boats.
Shorten’s achievement as Opposition Leader should not be underestimated. He destroyed the majority of a first-term government (although, yes, Malcolm Turnbull’s lazy campaign helped too) and he then reduced it to minority status. He’s still the strong favourite to win the federal election. But notwithstanding his own Labor-Right instincts, he’s surrendered to the Labor Left at almost every turn.
So far, none of the additional tax revenue he says he’ll collect will go to reducing debt faster. He’s given the thuggish CFMEU everything it has demanded and, in the process, agreed to trash the Rudd-Gillard industrial laws he had helped to write. Despite the evidence that more renewable power doesn’t just drive up prices but also makes blackouts routine, he’s doubled down on emissions reduction targets. None of this did much political damage while Turnbull was trying to turn the Liberal Party into Labor-lite but it’s putting the “unlosable” election at risk now that there’s a tribal Liberal leading the government and ready to fight back.
Until now, playing the envy card has worked for Shorten, who has milked it at every turn. But treating boatpeople before locals? Really? It would be a flat-footed government that was unable to make this a key election issue.
Ross Fitzgerald is emeritus professor of history and politics at Griffith University.
The Australian February 18, 2019, p 12
Doctors must be fair as the refugee debate rages.
Activist doctors, now they’ve helped dismantle a pillar of our border protection through their concern over a “crisis” on Nauru, might consider why they and their fellow medicos are so reluctant to move to rural areas in Australia where a doctor within a hundred kilometres is a rarity.
Paul Clancy, Tanunda SA
It appears Ross Fitzgerald (“Boatpeople jump Medicare queues?”, 18/2) would have supported turning my grand-dad away as a “queue jumper”. In the early 1900s, my grandfather’s parents smuggled him, aged 10 and his 12 year-old brother to England as asylum seekers.
Granddad’s parents were unable to escape from Russia and were killed. My grandfather and his brother survived and my father, who served in World War II, fought to defeat Hitler’s genocidal fascism.
Peter Smith, Lake Illawarra, NSW
The Australian February 19, 2019, p 13.