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The Liberal lie continues

By Ken Wolff

In his speech on election night, as reported by The Guardian, Malcolm Turnbull:

… accused the Labor party of running “some of the most systematic, well-funded lies ever peddled in Australia” in a campaign in which Labor claimed the Coalition was planning to privatise the government funded health insurance system, Medicare.

Turnbull questioned whether there would be a police investigation over the Labor campaign and he accused Labor of sending texts to voters claiming the Coalition would sell Medicare.

The Daily Mail (Australian edition) reported it this way:

“Today, as voters went to the polls, as you would have seen in the press, there were text messages being sent to thousands of people across Australia saying that Medicare was about to be privatised by the Liberal Party,” Mr Turnbull said in the speech.

“The SMS message came from Medicare. It said it came from Medicare. An extraordinary act of dishonesty. No doubt the police will investigate.”

And George Brandis said this:

I think that the thing that made the difference between a reasonably comfortable win and, if this is the case, a very narrow win for the Government, was the fact that the Labor Party threw the kitchen sink at one of the most mendacious and disgraceful campaigns that we’ve ever seen. The proposition that the Government planned to sell or privatise Medicare was … a nonsense.

So they accept that the Medicare campaign by Labor had a major effect but they insist it was a lie. Why?

As I pointed out in Turnbull’s Medicare backflip – or is it? the government had begun the process of examining how the Medicare payment system could be outsourced or sold to a private provider. Although the Liberals described this as only the ‘back office’ operations of Medicare, payments are the central role of Medicare. When this first became public news in February, there was no denial that it was taking place.

It was only after Labor aired its Bob Hawke campaign advertisement, that you don’t create a Medicare privatisation task force unless you intend to privatise Medicare, that Turnbull eventually came out and guaranteed that Medicare would not be privatised and that updating the payment system would take place ‘within government’.

Thus, when Labor continued its Medicare campaign, Turnbull and other Liberals claimed that it was based on a ‘lie’. Firstly, remember that denying privatisation came late in the election campaign and only after Labor’s message was obviously having an impact. Before that, or in other words for the first few weeks of the election, privatisation of the payment system was still on the Liberal agenda. Turnbull’s ‘guarantee’ was a decision made on the run and not reflective of what had previously been Liberal policy. It was purely a last minute and desperate political decision.

Secondly, Turnbull’s denials and ‘guarantee’ did not address the other issues surrounding Medicare: namely that Medicare rebates will now be frozen until 2020, making no increase for six years; and that the removal of bulk billing incentives for pathology and diagnostic imaging services was still on the table and would be reconsidered after the election. Even the new president of the AMA, Dr Michael Gannon, not a natural ally of the Labor party, pointed out that the freeze would force GPs to charge higher fees and to abandon bulk-billing and that some GPs had already advised the AMA that they were doing so.

Turnbull’s response was that doctors could charge whatever they liked and that if the freeze was removed it would increase the scheduled fee by only 60 cents, or up to $2 if backdated. Those amounts are probably fairly accurate and sound small but if a doctor is seeing between three and six patients per hour for six or seven hours a day, five days a week for 48 weeks of the year, even at 60 cents that could add up to an extra $6000 per year which would no doubt assist in meeting the surgery’s running costs. If there are four doctors in the surgery that is potentially up to $24,000 a year, or about $80,000 if the increase is $2. So despite Turnbull’s attempt to downplay the effect of the freeze, its real impact can be quite substantial for a surgery’s business model over a full year.

The other issue relating to Turnbull’s response is that it continued to ignore the concern that people will have to pay more. By taking the approach he did, he was basically abrogating any responsibility for medical costs – that is not what people expect of the government. What they do expect is that if medical costs rise the government will assist in meeting those costs, not say it is nothing to do with them, that doctors can charge whatever they like. If anything helped raise the profile of Labor’s Medicare campaign in the last days of the election campaign, then I think Turnbull’s response did.

Turnbull and the Liberals also tried to emphasise that the freeze had initially been introduced by Labor. That is true. It was introduced by Wayne Swan in the last Labor budget in 2013. What the Liberals didn’t say, thus lying by omission, was that Swan’s freeze was for a total of seven months, from November 2013 until June 2014 – of course, the savings made in that time would be built into future budgets. There was however another reason for that ‘freeze’, not just the need to save a few dollars. Indexation of Medicare scheduled benefits in November was associated with the old budget timetable when budgets were presented in August and new measures (costs) could only apply from 1 December. Since budgets have been presented in May all new measures can apply from 1 July and the change Swan made was to align Medicare indexation with the new budget timetable (most other indexed government payments had already been realigned and Medicare was one of the last). The freeze on Medicare rebates since June 2014 has been purely a Coalition government decision but, of course, they didn’t mention that.

So who was lying about Medicare? If the Coalition plans to continue the Medicare freeze until 2020, surely that is a valid point that Labor can make during an election. And if Medicare is covering less and less of the cost of seeing a doctor or specialist, that is also undermining the very purpose of Medicare. Again it becomes valid to argue that Medicare needs ‘saving’ because the Coalition’s approach would certainly mean that over time it would become worthless as health insurance. So Labor’s campaign of saving Medicare was not a lie. Medicare may not technically be ‘privatised’ but the continued impact of the freeze and removal of bulk billing incentives would have very much the same effect, pushing consumer costs higher and reducing both the health and social benefits of Medicare.

If voters responded to that, Turnbull has only himself to blame. His denial of privatisation came late so it could be questioned: the obvious response being that if you did not intend to privatise Medicare why didn’t you say so on day one of the election campaign? – why wait until you were forced to respond to Labor’s Medicare campaign? And if you only responded when forced to, can your decision really be trusted? If you are supporting Medicare, why is there a freeze on rebates for six years which is five years and five months longer than Labor’s original freeze? Why are you going to force pathologists and diagnostic imaging services to charge patients upfront and then have the patients claim a proportionally reduced rebate from Medicare?

They are questions that Turnbull just refused to address when Labor raised them. So it wasn’t simply a ‘privatisation’ scare campaign by Labor but a campaign that raised legitimate questions about Turnbull’s and the Coalition’s approach to Medicare. For Turnbull to come out and claim that Labor improved their vote because of a lie about privatisation is missing the point and is itself a lie because he will not face the truth that his other actions were still a threat to Medicare. People could see that and did believe that Medicare was worth saving.

This article was originally published on The Political Sword

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  1. etnorb

    Typical of this over-paid, inept. lying Liberal lot, try to put the blame on every one but themselves! Of course the Libs want to privatise Medicare, after all, this “system” works well for their Republican mates in the USA, doesn’t it? Whilst I don’t think that Bill Shorten only told the “truth” in all his policies, claims etc, he & his party are not in the same league as this Liberal lot! We all need to be very wary of just what this lot will do if they gain a majority.

  2. kerri

    What infuriates me is that we, the public, OWN Medicare!!
    It is our health scheme and our taxation dollars that go into funding health care for all instead of funding tax breaks for the wealthy and miners and anyone who is a mate of the LNp!

  3. michael lacey

    The bottom line is cheap Labor conservatives just don’t and never wanted Medicare. They will try any approach to weaken it and hollow it out and give you some dishonest narrative or diversion away from their real objectives !

  4. Phil

    Thanks Ken Wolff – thanks for this thorough analysis and debunk of the “grotesque lie” that Turnbull claims against his opposition – damned pity Turnbull and his divided party isn’t willing to respect the citizens from whom he seeks support.

    The Liberals have shown their true colours in this election imbroglio – an ugly business owned party with mealy mouths – no understanding or concern for ordinary people. They deserve the next three years, if they last that long. I think they will screw our nation badly – so be it – we will recover when they are done and turned over to the compost heap of political failures for recycling.

  5. Don A Kelly

    “Turnbull questioned whether there would be a police investigation over the Labor campaign”. Bill Shorten should make all the noise that he can through the media to insist that a police investigation should be forthcoming.

  6. Dave

    Great article Ken. Absolutely bang on. The privatisation of Medicare was in full play during the Abbott debacle and was never repudiated under Turnbull.

    The constant chipping away of services and leaning on the medicos to cover gaps is privatisation by stealth. Most gutless and demeaning to those at the coal face of provision and the public they serve.

  7. Drew

    How is outsourcing payments, privatising, still government run and financed, who’s lying, give us both sides of the story please.

  8. totaram

    All valid points, and of course, the “long game” as proposed by their “policy arm” , the IPA, has the strategy worked out:

    20. Means-test Medicare (guess what this means)

    49 Privatise Medibank : done immediately

    92 Abolish the Medicare levy surcharge (making it “unsustainable”)


    It’s not spelt out now, because people would be up in arms but it is death by a thousand cuts, which is the neo-liberal way to get things done. Just cut the funds and everything else will follow.

    No need to abolish, no need to privatise, just cut the funds to almost zero, leaving just a shell.

  9. Wayne Turner

    If the text messages claiming to be from Medicare to voters even happened.Don’t be surprised if it was done by some Liberal party supporters/members,as “security”,”excuse” and to “blame” Labor in case it was close or lost by the Libs.Remember when former Liberal party MP Jackie Kelly’s husband got in trouble for handing out pamplets claiming Labor loved terrorists that are muslims.Nothing would surprise me with this lot.Of course the Libs MSM is going along with the Libs BS like they are victims ie: The MSM using the Libs language and wording of “Mediscare” to attack Labor.Words and “framing” matter,and the Libs MSM is continuing the dirty work of these Libs.

    These LIBS are such born to rule hypocritical LYING sooks – From “no cuts…” = All cut, The vanishing “budget emergency” and “debt crisis” = Increasing the debt. “No excuses” = Lots of excuses” to Turnbull’s: “advocacy NOT slogans” = more slogans. And so many more LIES. These LYING LIBS have given no reason to believe a word they say.

  10. Plee

    Pity you didn’t mention this article sooner like before the election then others might have time to read it and make their decision, but I fear the horse has bolted, it seems like everything is running against labor.

  11. Michael Taylor

    Plee, we’ve been writing about Liberal lies since 2013. Daily.

  12. Möbius Ecko

    Plee I disagree. This is such a good election for Labor to lose, and other commentators are saying the same thing.

    I believe that even if Labor could have gotten a slim majority, the best they could have hoped for, and worked with independents and others it would still have been better if they lost.

    In the meantime Shorten knowing it was more likely than not that the L-NP would get over the line was acting like a winner, something several in the media commented on.

    Think on it.

    Turnbull will have to reverse at least health cuts and probably other cuts as well or there will be a backlash from the people.
    Economy is heading south and current Liberal economic policies will make that worse. Their forward projections to surplus are crap and most know it.
    Turnbull will almost certainly not last out the year.

    The Nationals, who did fairly well in the election, are demanding more power and say in government with Joyce leading the charge. Think on that for a second, and if that’s not scary, look at Joyce’s incoherent rambling Press Club speech.

    Bernardi is setting up his own extreme right wing splinter party and is gathering names for it right now.

    At least one of Turnbull’s team, Sinodinos, has corruption hanging over their head. Turnbull cannot lose a single member in a slim majority government.

    Though it’s not rule, the Liberals will most likely supply the speaker. The speaker may make a deciding vote in a deadlock they cannot vote on the floor.

    What all this means is that there is a good chance the Liberal brand will be in the least tarnished for a long time and at best forever. Their credentials as better economic managers may well be shredded to pieces. On the other hand if they do govern well and manage the economy with some acumen then I can’t begrudge them some esteem. But history shows they are not good at governance and since Abbott have gotten much worse, and speaking of Abbott he will be back on the front bench as yet another thorn in the government’s side.

  13. Michael Taylor

    Mobius, I wouldn’t be surprised if we see Labor governing from opposition. I think there’s going to be a lot of “you scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours” over the next three years.

  14. Kaye Lee

    Speaking of Liberal lies….

    Hopefully Labor, the Greens and NXT will have sufficient numbers to force a cost-benefit analysis of free trade agreements. Every free trade agreement has increased our imports more than our exports and the regulations are so complex and the paperwork so onerous that “a huge chunk of the traders surveyed by the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry don’t use them.”

    I have asked repeatedly where the “19,000 business opportunities” quoted by Turnbull and Morrison come from. Peter Martin asked the same question and apparently they refer to “the count of specific line items in the China, Korea and Japan free trade agreements.”

    “In the early stages of negotiation are agreements with India, Indonesia, the European Union and a Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership linking us separately to China, Japan, Korea, Singapore, New Zealand, Thailand, Malaysia, India and Indonesia.”

    This is a whole heap of bureaucratic red tape and the Coalition refuse to let the Productivity Commission or Treasury even evaluate if they are worthwhile. Why?

  15. Wun Farlung

    Kaye Lee
    I see Turnbull is going to see Bob Katter to discuss a deal to help form Government
    Given that Bob thinks free trade agreement should be one sentence on one page of paper, I don’t think that we need all the others pursuing a cost-benefit analysis.
    I saw Bob (during question time) in the last Parliament treated disgracefully one day and hope he gives it back in spades

  16. Möbius Ecko

    I think you are correct Migs. I dislike getting into telling what a party should do like the media always does, but in this case any implemented policy that comes out because of the opposition should be front and centre at the next election. After all this is what Howard used to often do, take Labor policy, rebadge it and claim kudos if it was successful. Indeed we have seen a whole lot of Liberals and Nationals during this election campaign take the credit from policies and programs that were instigated by Rudd and Gillard.

    The L-NP cannot be allowed to continue to get away with doing that.

    Another thing in Labor as opposition favour is the MSM dying. This election proved that Murdoch’s influence on Australian politics through its media outlets is very limited. Of course it still has other ways like the IPA.


    Amazing that the Libs cry wolf when for years with Abbott the lies told about Gillard and Swan were told as being true via many in MSM including ABC for which I have over this time I have lost a lot of respect for. It seems journalists today simply follow the pack and only those writers online appear to do any real analysis.

    Reading your figures rebate freeze, I would just like to add that locally for me there is a Doctor, Minute Michael. Now I’ll just leave that hanging for your readers to cost out.

    Having to see my doctor yesterday for another script (how much would he charge for that?) anyhow we quickly discussed the Medicare scare. He doesn’t get it…maintaining that Medicare was not being privatised. Interesting I said I did not want anything to be outsourced to private enterprise. One only has to look at other utilities that have been privatised and the debacle surrounding them, increased renumeratiins for CEOs! and Board Members, then there’s the responsibility to shareholders…by stealth under this mantra we will end up with nothing. And what happens to the money contributed each week by wage earners. As a worker over 50 years with much of that contributing to Medicare if still working and my contributions went to support a CEO private shareholders etc. I would not be happy.

    To me there is also a matter of SECURITY! outsourced to Indian workers are you joking, because mark my words no one in Australia would be employed. So just how would we control the security of medications of citizens without drug companies pressuring or bribing employees to hand over statistics and names. Security is pretty difficult here. Information as most know today is pretty available through your smart phone. Yesterday I asked Google where I had been and via Maps I was given my total shopping route stopping at RSL for lunch. My exercise program via an APP told me how active I had been when I hadn’t registered my usual walk programme, info via Maps. I constantly have telemarketing from oseas speaking to me as Jeanette, home owner, obviously from council records. So…I’ll just leave the security issue there.

    Turnbill missed the boat, while I as a pensioner would be quite affected I still feel broadening the GST base to fresh food, a slight increase of 2.5%. Not giving large companies a tax break, small business redefined back to its original status and giving assistance to employ extra staff along similar lines as labor proposed may get good results. Throwing money at business without defined outcomes would simply mean just updating to a new boat or whatever. As a previous small business owner if I had achieved $10m I would have several negative geared houses! An increase in the Medicare levy for those with a GROSS TAX (not net) over $250,000 or so would have seen some leadership. But when you are driven by ego only, in a house of cards it eventually falls down. I believe that with the bigotry of Pauline Hanson we sadly are not going to witness anything great in this country, rather it will divide more and it will be sooner rather than later that we could be back to the polls, and how much does that cost?

  18. cornlegend

    Wun Farlung
    I don’t think Malcolm will have much trouble getting Katter to be lenient with the Conservative side.
    Xenophon, as an ex Liberal has that in his DNA so his member won’t rock the boat much and Cathy McGowan has a 90+% record of voting with the LNP.
    Malcolms path may not be all that difficult
    We live in interesting times 😀

  19. Matters Not

    Katter likes the CFMEU, because they stand up for Australian workers. ? ?

    Understand that Katter’s father was at one time a member of the Australian Labor Party and a union delegate on the Brisbane wharves and had a long history of active unionism prior to his entry into public life.,_Sr

    Turnbull will have to pay through the nose to get his support and it will be on an hour by hour basis. Is Turnbull that desperate?

    Katter is not in the typical LNP mode. There’s a bit of DLP in him as well courtesy of his father.

  20. wam

    Australians can safely ignore the troubles of Tony Blair because, despite the evidence of lying, about education and medicare, by the coalition leaders, in the 2013/16 election, it is unthinkable that John Howard would have known of and lied about:
    The Tampa incident
    Children overboard
    Weapons of mass destruction
    The wheat board bribes to Saddam
    The fact that these ‘incidents’ may have helped him hold on to power was, surely, an unintentional and a purely coincidental occurrence that could have happened to any politician.
    ps ming’s ‘reds under the bed?”
    corn legend the lower house now serves the senate. he will have problems with egos.
    Remember the frenzy over the lemon and gillard wow 7 and 9 have a plethora.of options to start and fan the smoldering brains.

  21. paulwalter

    The appeal to Katter demonstrates the true nature of what passes for Turnbull’s character.

  22. jimhaz

    [How is outsourcing payments, privatising, still government run and financed, who’s lying, give us both sides of the story please]

    The payment system is the meat and bones of medicare, supporting jobs here in Australia. Privatising would be as economically non-successful as the privatisation of the CES, and comes with huge dangers.

    How would you like it if some immoral dude in India decides to make money selling info on the side?

    To quote a couple of SMH comments:

    “Those Mental Health Visits? Those genetic tests? That termination? That STD check?”

    “Ones does not have to look far to notice in the USA (for example) the health care industry accounts for 42.5% of all data breaches in the last three years, considerably more than any other sector of the economy, with 91% of all health care organizations reporting at least one data breach over the last two years. 2015 saw over one million patient health files breached through nearly 258 large-scale healthcare data breaches”

    The LNP DOES not do privatisation to reduce costs – they do it for ideological reasons (small gov, destruction of unions) and for corruption based reasons (lobbyists have a big impact). Per transaction fees and development costs would put at least 300 million pa clear profit into the hands of the already wealthy. What for…supposedly for the efficiency of Telstra or the Post Office or Commonwealth banks “online payments systems” ….lol as if that is rocket science nowadays.

  23. jimhaz

    Mobius said:

    [This election proved that Murdoch’s influence on Australian politics through its media outlets is very limited]

    I’m not sure how one can assess that. The ALP might still be in power with Gillard were it not for Murdoch’s MSM.

    I think it more a case of not being capable of brainwashing everyone. I wonder what the case would be without the internet.

  24. totaram

    “Another thing in Labor as opposition favour is the MSM dying. This election proved that Murdoch’s influence on Australian politics through its media outlets is very limited. Of course it still has other ways like the IPA.”

    They have control of the ABC now. IPA members appear on programs on a daily basis. Where are the people from, say, the Australia Institute, or from academia? First they stacked the board, got in a pliant CEO (ex-liberal) and now they have a CEO direct from Murdoch. This will need to be fixed.

  25. Ken Wolff

    Sorry I’m a bit late to join in but I thank everyone for their comments. Now there are too many to reply to you each individually.

    Instead I will make an additional point which was partly alluded to by the AMA but no-one else. When Medicare was introduced, part of the argument for doctors to accept bulk billing (and a slightly lesser payment) was that they would save money by no longer having to devote staff resources to maintaining accounts. They could simply get account statements from Medicare — in other words, Medicare would do most of the ‘paperwork’. If Turnbull continues the ‘freeze’ as planned and doctors start charging a ‘co-payment’, it could be the $15 or $25 suggested by Dr Michael Gannon because they will need to cover not just the loss of Medicare income but the cost of staff to manage the receipt and accounting of the co-payments. So there is an additional ‘hidden’ cost that has not been discussed.

  26. jim

    The internet would’ve help us somewhat and it’s still a kid thanks to the LNP destroying the NBN.

  27. TuffGuy

    So Turnbull “accused the Labor party of running “some of the most systematic, well-funded lies ever peddled in Australia”. I think “budget emergency” trumps that one every day of the week. Especially when you consider the deficit has tripled in 3 years under this lot and suddenly budget emergency has disappeared.

  28. Pingback: The Liberal lie continues — The AIM Network – johnlward010

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