Columnist for the Australian ‘newspaper’, Peter Van Onselen has described the Coalition’s campaign against the Medevac Bill as ‘sickening’. However, he considers it hard to feel sorry for the Labor Party. This is apparently because he believes that, at the last election, the Labor Party’s ‘Mediscare’ campaign was equally disingenuous. That campaign claimed that the Coalition planned to ‘privatise Medicare’. Van Onselen believes this argument was so laughable that, at first, government strategists considered it unworthy of a response1. He seems to believe that the assertion was that Medicare would be sold off in its entirety and, as it is hardly a profit-making enterprise, finding a buyer would be difficult at best. Either Van Onselen is gullible or is being disingenuous. The reason I say this is because there is some evidence that getting rid of Medicare or changing it dramatically is precisely the aim of the neoliberal acolytes in the Liberal Party.
The current Health Minister, Greg Hunt, in his maiden speech to parliament said:
“The next expansion in private health coverage is, I believe, through employer incentives for the inclusion of health care in workplace arrangements—perhaps through creative ways of excluding employer health care from the fringe benefits tax regime. The result of this, the freeing of resources which private health care generates…”2.
This is how most health insurance coverage is delivered in the United States, such that in 2017, 156 million people had health insurance through their employment, and 29 million people (about 9% of the population) had no health insurance at all3.
Peter Van Onselen seems to have forgotten what happened to Medibank. The Health Insurance Bill 1973 to establish Medibank was put to the parliament by the Whitlam government and was rejected by the Coalition-controlled senate on three occasions. This bill was one of those that led to the double dissolution election of 1974 and which subsequently was passed in a joint sitting of Parliament in August, 1974. The Fraser Government altered this so that it was funded by a 2.5% levy on taxable incomes, something the Coalition controlled Senate had prevented the Whitlam government from doing. The subsequent Fraser government passed the Medibank Private Bill which allowed the Health Insurance Commissions to enter the private insurance business using an Australian government business enterprise, Medibank Private. The original Medibank closed in 1981. The Hawke government reinstated the original Medibank model but renamed it Medicare, and they largely reversed the changes introduced by the Fraser government4. The subsequent Howard government stated that Medicare would be retained in its entirety, but they abolished the dental plan, and bulk billing rates declined significantly5. Medibank Private was privatised by the Abbott government in 20146.
The Institute of Public Affairs (IPA) is regarded by many as the policy arm of the Liberal Party, and Coalition governments have implemented or have committed to implementing many of the IPA’s fundamentalist neoliberal policies. These include: the repeal of the price on Carbon pollution; abolition of the Department of Climate Change; abolition of the Clean Energy Fund; repeal of Section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act; repeal of the renewable energy target; Introduction of a special economic zone in Northern Australia; repeal of the mining tax; devolution of environmental approvals for major projects to the states; privatisation of Medibank; breaking up of the ABC and put its functions out to tender; privatisation of SBS; halting construction of and privatisation of NBN7,8. While the IPA does not advocate abolishing Medicare, they do advocate means-testing it and abolishing the Medicare levy surcharge. Given Hunt’s statement in his maiden speech, it is not a stretch to believe that the coalition want to fundamentally change its structure, if not to privatise it. Morrison’s idiotic scare campaign, in which he states that the Medevac Bill will demolish offshore processing (read detention) and will lead to more boat arrivals when the Bill ONLY applies to current inmates on Manus and Nauru, and that if boats don’t start arriving it is the Coalition’s border policy which has been successful. However, if boats do arrive, it is all Labor’s fault. This is mind-boggling in its stupidity, but this sort of buffoonery now seems to be standard practice for this government. It is also exceptionally disingenuous because almost all asylum-seekers coming to Australia now come by plane9. So, Van Onselen’s comparison of Morrison’s sickening and idiotic asylum-seeker boat scare campaign with the ‘Mediscare’ campaign is, at best, ridiculous.