EDITORIAL MONDAY 19.04.10.
Well, after all of the discussion and debate, the campaigning and the critiquing, crunch time has arrived. Today is the day that the health reform debate has finally arrived at the Council Of Australian Governments meeting of Premiers, Chief Ministers and the Prime Minister, and it is expected to be a long day. In fact, there is some suggestion that the Prime Minister is prepared allow the meeting to last several days if that’s what it takes to reach an agreement. That’s because failure to reach an agreement is the worst possible outcome.
First and foremost, it would be the worst possible outcome for the Australian people who depend upon a first class public hospital system, which for all its faults is among the best in the world. Unfortunately, it won’t stay that way without fundamental change. It has been obvious for some time that out public hospitals have been struggling to deliver the service that we all expect and deserve. A combination of poor planning over the long term, cumbersome bureaucracies, and spiraling costs means that hospitals are just not equipped to meet expectations.
Secondly, it would be the worst possible outcome for the States because the bottom line is that the States simply cannot afford to meet their commitments. With the cost of hospital services increasing more rapidly than State government revenue, the day will come when the States simply run out of money. In about thirty or forty years from now, health costs will exceed the total State budget, leaving nothing for anything else. Obviously, the damage would begin to be noticed well before that point, and some would say that it has already become apparent.
Thirdly, failure to reach an agreement would be the worst possible outcome for Kevin Rudd. Already his big reform package for the environment, that is the Emissions Trading Scheme, has been shot down by a hostile senate. Failure to make good on his promise to “fix” public hospitals is something that he cannot afford in the lead up to an election later this year. Of course, he could blame the States and go through with his alternative plan to hold a referendum seeking authority form the people to force a takeover of the hospital system, but that is an option with its own problems. Most importantly, a referendum without opposition support is most likely to fail, leaving the Prime Minister nothing to show for his time in office so far, aside from a string of failures. Or at least, that’s the way many people would look at it.
For all those reasons and more, it is essential that there is an agreement. That being the case, we can only hope that they actually come up with a good one.