The political lens has been focused squarely on the government, more or less since the budget way back in May, and the announcement of the RSPT.
That’s continued to be the case over the last week with everyone parsing all the vicissitudes of Kevin Rudd’s political downfall, welcoming our first female PM, and frantically speculating about polls, the elections, and what she might do.
Tony Abbott has now seized the chance to come out with some positive policy, after a very long stretch of time when the Labor government was eating itself, and his fitness for office completely escaped scrutiny.
On the back of the resignation of Professor John Mendoza as Chair of the Rudd government’s National Advisory Council on Mental Health on the 10th of June, Abbott has now announced he’ll fund much of Mendoza’s program. (While we’re on social policy, he’s also declared that Indigenous disadvantage can only be ended if people take any job they can find.)
Mental health is a very important area, and it’s something that has touched me personally. I think that’s the case for more Australians than always care to admit it. But the Coalition’s announcement is not the panacea it may seem to be on first glance.
Abbott is trying to reinforce the contrast he’s been making since his Climate Change plan between his “direct action” approach and complex Labor reforms.
So, to pay for the mental health dollars, a host of Labor health programs bite the dust.
Health policy specialist Professor Stephen Leeder correctly warns that the Coalition cuts would make a nonsense of the overall health reform package.
We’re not just getting, in other words, a piece of the picture Labor didn’t pay, but the evisceration of health reform.
Abbott’s approach as Health Minister was to prop up the private sector and blame the states for everything that went wrong for public patients, while presiding over a continued shortage of medical staff and a near disappearance of bulk billing.
So he won’t be terribly bothered that this announcement kills the National Health and Hospitals Network, without explicitly saying so.
But that’s what’s happening, and that’s the context in which his announcement should be evaluated.