Are Our Leaders Showing Vital Signs?


Have you ever gone to a hospital emergency room, only to find yourself waiting three days to have your aorta repaired? Ever shown up for a flu vaccination, only to find they’re out of syringes? Ever called to make an appointment with your GP, only to be told there’s nothing wrong with you and you should stop this constant telephone harassment?

These are the moments when you realise there’s a crisis in Australia today.

Healthcare is probably the most vital issue facing Australians right now and, as such, any health care debate should be completely free of petty political point-scoring and gamesmanship.

Ha ha ha! That was a funny joke, wasn’t it? It’s good to laugh now and then.

The truth is, petty political point-scoring is part of the lifeblood of this nation and, if anything, we need more of it. Especially on vital issues like health care because, right now, the situation is pretty dire. All across the nation, decent hard-working Australians are forced to wait weeks, or months, for vital surgery. Critically ill and injured patients clog up hallways on stretchers, with no sign of a bed in their immediate future. Pregnant women give birth in toilets. Old-age pensioners breathe their last in supply closets. Exhausted surgeons at the end of a 56-hour shift absent-mindedly replace vital organs with beanie babies.

The terrible cycle of neglect continues. Statistics show that out of 10,463 people requiring immediate life-saving surgery in Australian hospitals last year, 15 lived, 18 died, and the rest are stockpiled in a wheat silo in Deniliquin. Is that the sort of health system to which you want to entrust your children after they have had a near-fatal accident while you’re not looking? Or your elderly parents once they’ve succumbed to your methodical campaign of incremental poisoning? I should think not.

So, reform is essential. In fact, both sides of politics agree about this: the only thing they disagree on is whose fault it is that it hasn’t happened yet. And this is the key question: just who is responsible for the current crisis in health care? It’s important to get the answer to this question right, lest future generations look back on us as the people who destroyed their chance of ever blaming anyone for their catastrophic rate of premature death. What a terrifying dystopia that would be.

So, who should we blame for health care? Two hypotheses have arisen:

Hypothesis 1: It is Tony Abbott’s fault.
This hypothesis is based on the fact that Tony Abbott was Federal Health Minister from 2003 to 2007, during which time, according to the Government, he ripped $1 billion out of the health system. What’s more, he refuses to say what he’s done with it. The government is pressing him — "Where’s the money, Tony?" they demand — but Abbott sits tight. Current speculation has it that the billion dollars are stashed, rather ironically, in the Virgin Islands, but perhaps we’ll never know.

All we know is that before 2003, the health system in this country was so good that we actually had an oversupply of health care, with hospitals sitting empty and people being forced to undergo unnecessary surgeries just to balance the budget. Doctors and nurses had so much spare time they were able to engage in complex and time-consuming romantic affairs while at work, as illustrated in the popular documentary series All Saints.

This was before Abbott blustered in, screaming "10ccs of neglect, STAT!" and reduced this utopian health system to a smoking ruin and the stench of corpses wafted across the land. And so it is up to the current Government to try to pick up the pieces, much as the Allied countries had to pick up the pieces in Europe after the Second World War, to repair the devastation Hitler had wreaked when he was Health Minister.

Then there is:

Hypothesis 2: It is Kevin Rudd’s fault.
As a senior bureaucrat in the Queensland government, Rudd was known as "Dr Death", due to his slashing of funding and introduction of acid baths into public health policy; and he has continued in this vein as Prime Minister. His major proposal to "fix" the health system is to take control of 60 per cent of funding from the states, presumably to out more of his deranged homicidal fantasies. So essentially, the Government’s plan for health reform is to send a gift basket of napalm to a pyromaniac.

The question that is being posed by the Opposition is: would you entrust your health to a man called Dr Death? Wouldn’t you rather entrust it to someone called the Mad Monk? It’s not much of a choice, admittedly, but that’s why the Opposition’s election slogan will be "Tony Abbott: The Man For When You Have A Gun To Your Head".

So, with such wildly divergent hypotheses, how do we, the common stupid people, decide who has the better plan for ensuring our good health into the future? The answer, of course, is via a 90-minute televised debate, which by good fortune is exactly what we got this week, as Rudd and Abbott "faced off" like two proud, magnificent, 50-something, Christian stags, locking their policy antlers together in an attempt to establish the dominance required to gain the right to mount the nubile doe that is the Australian public.

So, given that apt and disgusting metaphor, which one of these mighty beasts demonstrated in their debate the ability to successfully inseminate us with his health policy?

Well, Rudd certainly made a good start with his call to end the negativity. "Get positive, you prick," he chirped in an upbeat fashion at Abbott, throwing the latter’s churlish insistence on criticising the PM into sharp relief. Rudd offered an olive branch, and Abbott set fire to it. Nevertheless, Abbott also made a good point when he noted that Rudd was being inconsistent when he asked the Opposition leader to cooperate, but then told lies about his record. Indeed, why is the Prime Minister such a pathological liar? A question for another day, perhaps.

In any event, some enlightening points did emerge from the debate, with both sides establishing:

– That Tony Abbott as Health Minister ripped $1 billion out of health care
– That the previous point is a lie
– That we need to work together for the future
– That the previous point is hilarious
– That the premiers are in revolt
– That Kevin Rudd is boring
– That incapability to successfully provide computers to schools or non-fatal insulation installations to home-owners strongly indicates incapability to manage hospitals

This last point is rather pertinent — why should we trust our medical wellbeing to Kevin Rudd given his track record on denying children a decent education and using Peter Garrett as his personal hitman? If a man is so bent on killing that he finds a way to turn pink batts into murder weapons, how could you give him control of hospitals, where they keep morphine and scalpels? Do we really want Kevin Rudd roaming the streets with a full surgical kit and a tank full of nitrous oxide? Despite the photographic possibilities, the answer must, on sober reflection, be no.

But on the other hand, do we really want our health in the hands of Tony Abbott, a man whose reign as Health Minister was marked by a maniacally quixotic quest to keep all the abortion drugs for himself and whose tenure as Opposition Leader has been distinguished by an interest in genitalia verging on the pathological?

This is the choice we are faced with: a bureaucratic serial killer on the one hand, and a scantily-clad sex fiend on the other. We cannot get this wrong — the good health of our children, and our children’s children, makes it crucial that our decision is slightly less terrifying than the alternative.

But the main thing, and the great positive that has come out of all this, is that the great bane of Australian health policy, the "blame game", looks like finally coming to an end.

Let the "dying helplessly in our beds game" begin.

Launched in 2004, New Matilda is one of Australia's oldest online independent publications. It's focus is on investigative journalism and analysis, with occasional smart arsery thrown in for reasons of sanity. New Matilda is owned and edited by Walkley Award and Human Rights Award winning journalist Chris Graham.