By James Moylan
There has been a lot of talk about the possibility of ‘privatising’ Medicare recently. Unfortunately very few commentators have bothered to drill down into how the word ‘privatisation’ is being used by the various protagonists.
Just what the term means when used by a conservative politician, as opposed to a progressive politician, is revealing. It explains a great deal about the dynamics of the current debate. It explains why both sides seem to be talking at cross purposes. It also explains why the Labor Medicare ‘scare’ campaign is considered by most to be both true, and false, all at once.
The conservatives amongst us usually describe ‘privatisation’ as being the packaging and then sale of a government service so it can then be run as a for-profit private entity. So the selling-off of Telstra, or Medicare Private, or a power station, might be presented as being an example of ‘privatisation’. And of course in purely semantic terms this is correct. To your average economist ‘privatisation’ is all about transferring government services into private hands so that they can then be run as a stand alone ‘business’.
However to a progressive politician and most Aussies the selling-off of government services is just a symptom of ‘privatisation’. For most of us ‘privatisation’ simply describes the tendency to consider the provision of government services in purely economic terms. For most of us the idea that aspects of the Medicare ‘back office’ might be farmed out to private contractors is definitely an example of ‘privatisation’. Contracting out the keeping of our medical records to private a contractor is also an example of ‘privatisation’. As is the idea that any Aussie might have to take out private health insurance just to ensure that they have access to the full range of government services that are available.
Whether or not a piece of government infrastructure is being sold off, or a private business is being manufactured to take the place of a government service, most Aussies still regard the creeping commercialisation that has been infiltrating our Health Care sector as being ‘privatisation’. It is simply ‘privatisation by stealth’.
Yes most of us understand that what the LNP say they want to do with the Medicare system is not strictly ‘privatisation’ as an economist might use the word. But it hardly matters. The LNP still want to gut Medicare. We all know that. They have always been ideologically opposed to the whole idea that everyone in Australia should have equal access to all health care services irrespective of their financial or social standing. When it comes to health care the trick is to look at the actions of the LNP and the conservative side of politics rather than listen to what they have to say. Aussies know this. Most of us didn’t come down in the last shower.
Ever since its inception Aussies have watched the conservative forces in our country do everything within their power to undermine or dismantle the system. It was introduced by Whitlam, abolished by Fraser, reintroduced by Hawke, and then watered down to an acceptable level by Howard.
Under Howard the conservative forces, upon realising that they could no longer be blatant about their resistance to the idea of a free health care sector, decided that they would force the introduction of a special health care sector just for rich people. Moreover they would even force the public purse to subsidise this separate system that would be used by only the richest. After all: if the Labor Party were going to force the introduction of a ‘universal system’ then the rich would ensure that they also got their snouts into the trough – even though they would never be caught dead in a public hospital (pun intended).
So for the last fifteen or so years the conservatives have been using weasel words to hide their true intentions. We all know they still want to dismantle the whole system and start again, however in the meantime they are happy to play along, as long as they still get preferential access to all the best services available, subsidised by the public purse, and still don’t have to mix with the commoners.
So the average observer looks at the ‘privatisation’ debate in a nuanced fashion. They think the Labor Party is both right and wrong. And they think the LNP is both right and wrong.
Yes the Labor party is right but it is hard for most of us to take anything the Labor Party says seriously. They seem to have given up on believing in anything that can’t be argued against with a big enough wad of cash. So it is hard to take them at their word when they say that they will stop being bastards and will now try to keep the other bastards honest.
We have all watched as the Labor Party has rolled over, again and again, to let the rich tickle their tummy with bundles of notes, before allowing for the creation of a parallel rich person’s health care system, or special tax breaks, or a special superannuation system (etc, etc, etc). Time and again they have allowed our assets to be transferred into the pockets of the richest fraction of our society just so they could buy the ‘respect’ of rich citizens and the self-interested business community. All despite the wishes of the majority, the best interests of the poor and marginalised, and their own oft stated ideologies.
So now we have a ‘Labor Party’ which is both in favour of ‘privatisation’ as well as being against privatisation. A semi-socialist Labor Party that is half-pregnant regarding economic rationalism. They accepted all this economic gobbledygook when they sold-out during the Howard years, yet now they are bleating that the public won’t take them seriously when they point to the very real threat that the LNP represent for the Medicare system?
Suck it up Labor. The fault is as much with you as it is with the everlasting intentions of the LNP.
The public do understand that the LNP is hostile to Medicare. But to hear the Labor Party bleat indignantly about the growing inequality within our society is sickening. The stench of hypocrisy is almost overpowering.