Beattie's setback caused by health crisis


Jim McIlroy, Brisbane

The Queensland Labor government has suffered its first major electoral setback since its massive win in the February 2004 state election. In by-elections held on August 20, the ALP lost two "safe" seats in the Brisbane region, Chatsworth and Redcliffe, with swings of 13.8% and 10% respectively.

The Liberal Party wins have revived calls by the Queensland National Party for the re-establishment of a formal coalition. The Liberals are downplaying such a move.

While conservatives are jubilant about the by-election results, more sober commentators point out that the Liberals still hold only seven of the 89 state seats. The next state election is due by February 2007.

The main issue that generated the huge by-election swings was the crisis in the hospital system. That crisis was exemplified by the infamous case of Dr Jayant Patel, dubbed "Dr Death", which has been widely publicised through an inquiry into medical malpractice at the Bundaberg District Hospital. That public inquiry, together with another more general review of the state public hospital system, has created huge discontent with the state government's performance.

These developments have highlighted the need for substantially more funding for the public hospital system, including to attract more nurses and doctors to the hospitals. But behind the problems in Queensland lies the national crisis created by the federal Coalition government's attacks on Medicare and cuts to public health generally.

Premier Peter Beattie has responded to Queensland's crisis by offering to hand over the state's hospitals to the federal government. Fortunately, federal health minister Tony Abbott rejected the offer on August 26 — direct federal control of Queensland's hospitals would undoubtedly lead to even worse problems in the system.

From Green Left Weekly, August 31, 2005.
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