Saturday, March 6, 2010

Quick! Call the Doctor

Everybody knows the Australian health system is sick. In fact it's terminally ill. State governments have struggled for many years to cope with funding what is the single biggest expense in their budgets. We can't brush off the troubling reality that our public hospitals are doubled over under the strain of caring for the sick and injured in society. Understaffed and under resourced, they battle on but the war is being lost. Somebody needs to do something. We need a saviour.

In strides Prime Minister Kevin Rudd who said during the election campaign in 2007 that he would launch a federal take over of our bedraggled and inefficient state health systems. Many cheered. Hope was renewed. Those who wish to dispose of state governments entirely, enthusiastically applauded the first step on the road to the removal of an unnecessary tier of government. However, three years have passed and nothing has changed.

The government held an inquiry, but nothing has happened yet. Critics complain about the lack of action. The opposition rolls out the cliches about elected prime ministers not keeping their promises, and cynics tell everyone that they told them so. The government announces other exciting developements to try to distract the masses from the perceived lack of action in some areas.

There are two important points to be made here. Firstly, three years is not enough time for an elected government to implement the reforms for which they were given a mandate by the voters. Year 1: keeping as many of the easier promises as possible and making excuses for the ones they break. Year 2: action and genuine reform begins. Year 3: preparation for the next election. That is, reminding the electorate of what they have done, and making some new promises for the next term if elected.

Four year fixed terms would help remove or at least lessen this problem. We have them for the NSW state government. Let's introduce them for the feds.

Secondly, fixing the health system is not like you or I changing our health insurance provider. Mr Rudd has already admitted that he and his government have underestimated the complexity of the issues. They needed all they time they have taken, and they will need a lot more. Our Prime Minster is not a magician. There is no magic wand to wave over our public hospitals. There is no quick fix. To hear members of the opposition say he is taking too long, makes me sick. They should shut up and jump behind the public hospitals reform agenda and push it with all the strength they possess.

Politics is an invasive species. It permeates every aspect of a our lives, public and private. It is a weed which chokes the plants of progress and reform, and it should not play a role in the ongoing drama of our public health system. Mr Rudd says he will fix it and I believe he will, given the time to do it properly, and cooperation.

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