Australian hospitals are in crisis, with mounting bed closures, job losses, and attacks on the pay and conditions of healthcare workers. The ALP and the Liberal Party continue to shift the blame for the latest round of health funding cuts, despite the fact that both parties support slashing public healthcare.
This bizarre ‘blame game’ has carried on for months with neither major party prepared to put an end to austerity, let alone increase funding to healthcare as is required.
By David Elliott, Socialist Party
The latest round began last October when the federal Labor government announced a $403 million reduction to health spending this financial year. More than a quarter of these cuts where to be borne by Victoria. To save face, the federal government then backpedaled, pledging to divert $103 million to Victoria’s health system – but only by taking this money from other areas!
The Victorian Liberals have accused the ALP of making cuts of up to $475 million over the past four years in Victoria. The ALP claims that the reduced funding is due to lower healthcare costs but they have failed to provide any justification for this claim.
At the same time Liberal state governments around the country have made enormous cuts to healthcare funding and other public services. In recent years the Victorian government has slashed more than $600 million from the state’s hospital system. The Queensland government has slashed $1.6 billion while New South Wales has cut a staggering $3 billion.
Federal Health Minister Tanya Plibersek claims that the federal government is offering an extra $900 million over the next four years to Victoria. This needs to be looked at in the context of the ALP’s recent reforms to health funding, which sidelines healthcare needs in favour of a ‘performance based’ model in which funds are allocated when ‘efficiency targets’ are met.
This means a spending reduction in real terms coupled with a push towards healthcare privatisation. Hospital waiting times have increased since Labor’s new rules have come into effect.
In reality both major parties have the same goal of shifting the funding burden away from the state and onto individuals. Unfortunately they are not facing anything beyond token opposition from organisations representing healthcare workers or patients.
Currently in Australia most trade unions, including the Australian Nursing Federation, are under the control of conservative, self-interested leaderships who refuse to seriously challenge the right-wing policies of the ALP. Rather than breaking ties with this party, they call on their members to vote for them as a ‘lesser evil’ to the Liberals. But once in power, the ALP carries out exactly the same policies as the Liberals. As a result, the healthcare system is being run into the ground.
While both major parties are content to bicker, hundreds of hospital beds are closing and patients are being forced to wait ever longer to get treatment. The Australian Medical Association has reported that a fifth of elective surgery patients and a third of patients classified “urgent” are not being seen in the recommended time. They report that this will inevitably lead to preventable deaths. We can not risk allowing this cycle to continue.
The healthcare system should not be run for profit. We should bring all the major healthcare providers, along with the big pharmaceutical companies, into public ownership under democratic control. This way we could exercise real control over the sector and run it on the basis of meeting people’s needs.
By removing the profit motive millions of dollars could be freed up and put towards expanding the system. Billions more could be released if taxes on big business – especially the big mining companies – were increased. A socialist approach would produce drastic improvements to healthcare in Australia.