It was a predictable move. Prime Minister Kevin Rudd's popularity was sliding in the lead-up to a federal election. Meanwhile, despite Coalition opposition leader "Mad Monk" Tony Abbott's wild statements (and even wilder ones from his deputy), his personal ratings were going up.
Rudd Labor's Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme (CPRS), which would not reduce carbon emissions by much, was stalemated in the Senate and increasingly dead in the water with the public.
So bring in the Hollow Men and their whiteboards. "Let's shift to new terrain and get away from the CPRS and the home insulation fiasco", they probably advised.
Rudd and his ministers needed an issue on which they could appear to be the "good guys" without denting the interest of the country's filthy rich elite. Health reform, of course, that's the ticket!
The beauty about health reform is that it sounds good to lots of people and, most importantly, it makes unpopular (mainly Labor) state governments Rudd's target.
This is the cynical play that politics is reduced to in this age of Labor and Coalition governments both committed to the neoliberal reform agenda. When in government, they do pretty much the same nasty privatising, service cutting, corporate profit-padding thing but when in opposition they howl hypocritically about the pain it causes ordinary people — "working families".
The Labor government remains firmly committed to the neoliberal agenda, despite Rudd's famous Monthly essay last year blaming neoliberalism (and shameless corporate greed) for the global financial crisis. Labor's track record proves this.
Indeed, sometimes hilariously — as when Abbott recently proposed 26 weeks of parental leave paid for by a levy on big businesses and we were treated to a conga line of Labor leaders pleading hardship for the top end of town.
It's rich — or rather they are! According to the March 10 Australian Financial Review: "Following a record run of equity raisings last year, corporate Australia is sitting on more than $100 billion in excess capital."
They're just waiting for a profitable investment opportunity.
Maternity leave? Pass. Renewable energy? Pass. Public transport? Pass. Hospitals? Pass... that's the government's responsibility.
But when it comes to the $3 billion annual subsidy to private health insurers, and subsidies to private hospitals and schools, the corporate end of town drops its usual leave-it-to-the-market mantra. Indeed it is salivating at the prospect of privatising Medibank Private (worth up to $4.5 billion).
A serious reform of public health would end this outrageous corporate rorting.
A serious reform of public health would not simply tilt the playing field in the endless (and deadly, for many patients) federal-state funding football game. A serious reform of public health would guarantee hospitals the funds and staff they urgently need, and raise the extra money through sharply progressive taxation, not through the GST that punishes the poor.
A serious reform of public health would make good on the lost promises to bring dental care under public health. In 21st century Australia, you can still look in someone's mouth and tell pretty accurately which class they come from.
A serious reform of public health would take on the Australian Medical Association (AMA) mafia and rebuild the health system from the bottom up as a public, community-based system, funded by public health insurance, and democratically managed by users and salaried health professionals committed to quality public health.
Such serious reform at the base of the system would lead to more preventative care and therefore ease the growing dependence on expensive drugs and equipment hopelessly trying to patch people up when it is pretty much too late.
This is acknowledged as the biggest pressure on health spending and of course it is reasonable to want the best available technology. But if problems can be fixed earlier in a person's life, it is better for them and it saves public money.
We could have serious health reform if there was a government willing to take on the multi-billion-dollar vested interests such as the insurance companies, the pharmaceuticals and the AMA. Even Third World Cuba has universal health care that is world famous and not permanently held hostage to corporate profiteers.
How many more billions or trillions are the healthcare profiteers going to be allowed to make at the cost of so many lives and so much pain and misery?