Sunday, March 28, 2010

Political Images

Image, Image Everywhere, an' Not a Policy to See. (with apologies to Samuel Taylor Coleridge; ... and the Ancient Mariner)

This week we have had 3 political 'debates': 2 in Australia, and one in the USA. One involved (Labor) Prime Minister Kevin Rudd and Opposition (Liberal) Leader Tony Abbott. They debated Health reform in Australia, with particular emphasis on improving our hospital system. Both were dressed well, wore significant makeup, and presented the political image they and their minders planned. By all reports, Kevin Rudd won the popularity contest, and the debate. He actually has a policy he wants to implement; the Opposition is still deciding if it has one, or wants one.

In NSW, The (Labor) Premier, Kristina Keneally and Opposition (Liberal) Leader, Barry O'Farrell, debated how good/bad/indifferent is the state, and why each of them should be elected as Premier in March 2011. By all reports, Barry O'Farrell won that debate. He will probably win the NSW election in 2011.

These two debates were really all about image, style, and scoring political points in a setting other than Parliament. After all, televised Question Time does the image of politicians no good at all. I have previously written about the disgrace that it is. Not for nothing is the NSW Parliament called "the bear pit"!

The third debate occurred in the US Congress and Senate, which ultimately passed a Medicaid Bill. Reports indicate it will assist up to an extra 3 million people gain the health care they need. As an Australian, I was astounded when, during Obama's Presidential campaign, there was at least 1 free health clinic organised in rural America - for farmers and their families who could not afford health insurance, but who desperately needed health care. The then US government had abandoned them. Republicans (mostly) are those who opposed the legislation - their view is that one must have money, or an employer, to pay for health care. Everyone else, it seems to the Republicans, can go hang! What a sad indictment on a political party.

Australia, of course, is not immune to poor health policy. We desperately need good policies for Indigenous health, dental care for many, improved aged care, better funding for hospitals, ... (the list goes on)

Politicians everywhere must forget image; they should instead go for the substance of good policy. And WE must tell them so.


Sunday, March 21, 2010

Cleanup Question Time

This week's Question Time in Federal Parliament had only one difference from many others. The Opposition asked for a series of public. televised, debates on Health Policy. Prime Minister Rudd accepted.

It all came about because the Government used Question Time to bait, and deride, Tony Abbott's record as Federal Health Minister in John Howard's Government.

Question Time usually contains a few "Dorothy Dixer"s - questions from Government backbenchers that allow a Minister/Prime Minister to bag members of the Opposition. They usually shout back insults and the whole process degenerates into a slanging match of insults. So much for MP's concept of Parliamentary accountability and responsibility. It's all about cheap point-scoring and has nothing to do with acountability, responsibility, or establishing good policy. And so it has been for more than 20 years under Governments led by Keating, Hawke, Howard, and now Rudd. "You FRAUD", "You FAKE", "You LIAR", "You LOWLIFE" are what has passed for Parliamentary "robust debate" for far too long.

However, you can be sure that Messrs Rudd and Abbott will be on their best behaviour for the televised debates. They do not want the public seeing the the way they "debate" in Question Time. Yes, I know that's televised live, too; but the ratings? What ratings?

It is time that Parliamentary debates, and Question Time, are properly attended, and properly debated, without resort that by community standards is is both unparliamentary, and unacceptable.

You can write to the Prime Minister, and Leader of the Opposition at the following:

Prime Minster Rudd:
Tony Abbott:


Sunday, March 14, 2010

It's NOT a Tax! - Libs

In a week when Oppositin Leader Tony abbott has had a great big idea, the Liberals are now denying it involves a tax.

Tony Abbott's policy-on-the-run for 6 months fully paid maternity leave, with actual income up to $150,000/year (ie up to $75,000, but highly variable, and inconsistent) left many Liberal Party members in shock. He had not consulted them, not had the policy approved by Shadow Cabinet, let alone a party meeting, And, he said it would be funded by a levy on big business. (those with incomes more than $5 million) They haven't addressed the concept that different women would be paid different amounts of maternity pay, just because they're richer, or poorer.

It would certainly provide, and require, more money than Kevin Rudd's (Labor) proposed legislation for 6-months paid maternity leave at minimum wage rates.

Tony Abbott used the word 'levy', rather than 'tax', because he's been accusing the Government's Emission Trading Scheme of being "a great big new tax". Following attacks in Parliament about his own 'great big new tax' on business, the Libs have rallied. In a number of interviews, Sharman Stone, Shadow Minister for Early Childhood Education and the Status of Women, said they are not calling it a tax, they are calling it "an investment in human capital".

Big business called it a tax, and don't want it. Taxpayers recognise it as a tax; media interviewers recognise it as a tax. If it looks like a tax, smells like a tax, and is paid like a tax ... The Liberals deny it's a tax. Moreover, if I were a woman, I would not want to be referred to as "human capital" for the use of business as they see fit. Businesses view capital as something from which they want a return. Capital is something to be used. It's impersonal.

We should be debating whether or not the policy is "good policy" not playing with words, and not hiding the details, and flow-on effects of a new tax on business.

The Liberal Party should be straight with people, and say "Yes, it's a tax. IF Australia is to adopt our paid maternity scheme, we need new taxes. Big business will pass on the cost to taxpaying consumers, who will ultimately pay" There, I've said it for them.


Thursday, March 04, 2010

Better Health

I haven't posted for a while, because a relative and good friend had been seriouly ill. Jude died today, from cancer. It really is a most insidious disease. She she is survived by her husband and children.

For the last 5 weeks or so, she has been in hospital, receiving treatment and care from a team of professional people, specialising in cancer, cardiology and palliative care. There have been doctors, allied health professionals and nurses. She reached a stage where doctors recommended only palliative care. We travelled considerable distances to see her each weekend, one Friday and yesterday afternoon. She died peacefully this morning. All have been professional and caring. They have made her, and our, cancer journey that little bit less difficult, but no less emotional.

Her death comes in the week that Kevin Rudd has proposed a partial takeover of hospitals. His plan proposes that the Commonwealth retain 30% of GST revenues, instead of passing them on to the states. This money would be used to help fund local groups of hospitals, which would be managed by local boards. The total funding would be split 60% Commonwealth; 40% State.

I have not delved into the broad plan proposed by Mr Rudd, but I would make the following comments:
  • Most people recognize, or believe, the current model is flawed, and inefficient. It encourages cost-shifting between state and Commonwealth-funded services. Each state has its own bureaucratic model.
  • We voters do not have to accept the first new plan to come along (Prime Minister Rudd's). We should also be aware that the Opposition Liberal-National Parties want to use such a takeover, of their own 'plan', to resurrect WorkChoices-style industrial relations.
So, let's have have the discussion - we need to. But let's not jump at the first offer made. You wouldn't do that when buying a car, or house. Don't do it with health reform.

Vale, Jude