EDITORIAL TUESDAY 22.12.09.
Opposition Leader Tony Abbott has launched a campaign to seize the agenda on health reform from the government. In effect, he is attempting to hijack the government’s position, adapt it to suit his own needs, and take it to the next election. And who can blame him? Health care and hospital reform was an issue which was front and centre at the last election, right up there alongside work choices, and the people of Australia are entitled to ask what happened to those promises. Two thirds of the way through the term of government there as been a lot of talk and very little action, so its easy to get the idea that Kevin Rudd has squibbed on his promise.
Whatever else you might think of Tony Abbott, he is an adept political player. Regardless of the lack of actual policy on pretty much anything, his energetic opposition to just about everything the government does has to some extent revitalised the Liberals, giving them a spark they had lost by making a clear distinction between themselves and the government. Where Mr. Rudd once had clear public support for his agenda, the truth is that the states are reluctant to give up control over anything to the Commonwealth, leaving Mr. Rudd’s timetable for reform sadly battered and bruised. And while Kevin Rudd is now seen as being slow to bring about meaningful health reform the door is open for a smart operator like Mr. Abbott to seize the initiative.
Of course, it is easy in opposition to tell everybody that you would do a better job than the incumbants without actually having to do anything. Tony Abbott knows that, and is taking maximum advantage of it, making himself a pro-active opposition leader prepared to attack the government at every opportunity. But he also knows that sooner or later he will have to come up with real answers and real policies if he is to have any real hope at the next election. His proposal today for the federal government to directly fund healthcare through local hospital boards and bypass the states is an echo of Kevin Rudd’s 2007 pledge to seize control of hospitals if the states could not lift their game. It sounds very appealing, but actually delivering on the promise if and when the crunch comes will be a whole lot more difficult unless the states come to the party.
Just ask Kevin Rudd.