The Politics    Wednesday, June 9, 2021


By Rachel Withers

Image of Australian Medical Association president Dr Omar Khorshid. Image via ABC News

Australian Medical Association president Dr Omar Khorshid. Image via ABC News

The AMA doesn’t want another Mediscare, but Labor has found its foothold

Australian Medical Association president Dr Omar Khorshid has told the National Press Club he hopes that “we’re not going see another Mediscare campaign”, despite the AMA being unhappy with the implementation of the government’s recently announced rebate overhaul, which has already prompted Mediscare rumblings. In his press club address, Khorshid spoke of the AMA’s vision for reforming the health system, with the association eager to capitalise on lessons from the pandemic. The AMA is calling for increased funding – especially for hospitals, noting Australia has historically under-invested in health – and an improved focus on preventative healthcare. Khorshid has said he wants the politics taken out of healthcare, so of course one of the first questions, from The Australian, focused on criticising the Victorian government’s lockdown. (Khorshid said the AMA supported the state’s response, and reiterated the need for people to get vaccinated if they wanted lockdowns to stop occurring.) It came as no surprise that the doctor did not want to see another Mediscare campaign, despite his misgivings over the amount of notice given for the July 1 changes, and the “sad reality” that Medicare funding has been “effectively cut” for 30 years. But with Labor leader Anthony Albanese tweeting a photo of a letter from Bob Hawke marking the launch of Medicare, it seems Albanese is marking the launch of Mediscare 2.0. Is it valid this time?

Ever since Sunday’s announced changes to 900 items on the Medicare Benefits Schedule, Labor has been flexing its scare-campaign muscles, with many arguing the proposed rebate changes actually vindicate its dubious but effective 2016 campaign tactic. Today appears to have been something of a soft launch, with some of Labor’s sharpest critics tweeting about Medicare being under attack, from federal MP Julian Hill (“the biggest attack on Medicare in decades”) to Queensland Deputy Premier Steven Miles (“Good morning to everyone except Scott Morrison, who’s cutting Medicare in the middle of a pandemic”). But you’d be hard-pressed to find a Labor MP who hasn’t commented on the issue in the past few days. It’s clear the scaremongering will form a key part of Labor’s election campaign, though with the changes going through on July 1, the attacks may lose their bite.

Health experts seem to agree that the changes to the MBS are both necessary and overdue, with Grattan Institute health economist Professor Stephen Duckett telling Guardian Australia that the review – undertaken by an independent advisory group comprising experts, doctors and consumer representatives – was about making sure the items and costings “are more reflective of contemporary practice”. But even those who agree with the changes think doctors and health funds need more time to adjust, with “chaos” and out-of-pocket costs likely if they are rushed through. On Sunday the AMA called for a six-month lead time to prepare for the update, but at today’s address, Khorshid appeared to accept that the changes will be going through on July 1, saying the association’s concerns had been “heard” by the government, which had agreed to provide more time for future rounds. (A “peace deal” was reportedly reached between the government and the AMA on Tuesday night, with the AMA to “co-design” future changes.)

The government still hasn’t admitted that the current changes are rushed, or offered to push them back by three to six months, as many experts are calling for. It’s obvious why. Leaving the proposed changes hanging in the air opens the party to a political weakness, and to Labor’s favourite kind of attack, during what is if not an election year then at least an election countdown. The Coalition will be hoping these Medicare tweaks go down smoothly, and are well and truly off the agenda by the time the election rolls around. If not, there might be some serious costs – for patients and politicians.

Listen to The Politics Podcast, with Rachel Withers

“Kate is not here any more but she did entrust her story to us … And so we will keep telling it until there is some modicum of responsibility and accountability taken.”

Jo Dyer, a friend of Christian Porter’s accuser, has vowed to keep telling her friend’s story until there’s an inquiry, and promises to accept the outcome if a proper investigation is held.

“It wasn’t grassy knoll conspiracy theories; a series of questions was asked by the Opposition … Good on Louise Staley for asking questions as the Opposition shadow treasurer.”

Federal Trade Minister Dan Tehan says the Victorian Liberal Party has a “right to ask questions” about Premier Daniel Andrews’ accident.

You had one job, Greg Hunt
A third spread of COVID-19 in Victorian aged-care homes was not just a possibility; it was almost a given. Even before a vaccine was available, the federal government ended the support payment intended to stop casual staff working across multiple sites.

The cost of the Biloela family’s detention on Christmas Island, according to evidence provided by the Department of Home Affairs. Shadow minister Kristina Keneally claims the true cost is likely closer to $50 million.

“The Law Council of Australia has called for changes to the country’s national security laws, to ensure cases are not kept secret from the public, like that of so-called ‘Witness J’.”

An inquiry will begin today into whether the law – which saw “Witness J” convicted and sentenced in complete secrecy in 2019 for offences relating to the mishandling of classified information – was appropriately used.

The list

“The album, New Long Leg, is the perfect length for an album: 10 songs, 41 minutes. That’s LP-length, and I mention it because it’s a detail – like the Gibson guitar – that conveys the band’s attachment to a long and largely analogue history of rock, even though the subject of their songs is the warp of contemporary, online consciousness.”

“Scott Morrison, Peter Dutton and the current immigration minister, Alex Hawke, are among the many ‘new conservatives’ attracted to the Liberal Party by Howard’s culture wars, and are frustrated by the publicity the Murugappans have attracted, and the human interest stories they’ve provoked, even on commercial television. Governments have gone to great lengths to limit our exposure to these human particulars, presumably to encourage a focus on the general, where it’s easier to reduce humanity to numbers and stereotypes.”

“In April, Netflix Australia announced its first original series: a docu-soap, titled Byron Baes, based around the lives of ‘hot Instagrammers’ and ‘celebrity-adjacent-adjacent influencers’ living in Byron Bay. In the weeks since, the streaming giant has struggled to temper the public backlash. Almost 10,000 people have signed a petition to boycott the show and block production. The Byron Shire Council has passed a number of motions declaring its opposition to the series. Locals recently paddled out into the bay in protest, while others stood on the shore with placards reading ‘give Netflix the flick’. Businesses have refused to let production crews film on their premises.”

Rachel Withers

Rachel Withers is the contributing editor of The Politics.


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