Health Reform News

Labor’s New Shadow Minister for Health Chris Bowen

Newly elected Labor Leader, Anthony Albanese, announced his new Shadow Cabinet this week following the Opposition’s devastating recent 2019 Federal Election loss. Gone was the Opposition’s long-time health spokeswoman, Catherine King, replaced with the man many thought would be the next heir to Paul Keating’s legacy as treasurer, Chris Bowen.

Christopher Eyles Guy Bowen was born in Sydney and educated at Smithfield Public School and St Johns Park High School in New South Wales. Bowen attended the University of Sydney where he graduated with a Bachelor of Economics, later completing a Masters of International Relations from Griffith University and a Diploma in Modern Languages (Bahasa Indonesia) from the University of New England.

At the age of 22, Bowen worked as a research and media officer to the then Member for Prospect, Janice Crosio MBE, before joining the Finance Sector Union as an industrial from 1995-2000. In 2001 Bowen took up an offer to join the staff of NSW Minister for Roads, Housing and Leader of the House, Patrick Carl Scully as first a Senior Advisor and later as Chief of Staff.

Bowen first started his career in public life when he was elected to Fairfield Council in 1995, and subsequently as mayor from 1998-1999. Between 1999-2001, Bowen went on to become the President of the Western Sydney Regional Organisation of Councils.

In 2004, Bowen stood and was elected for the Federal seat of McMahon to replace his former boss, Janice Crosio, who retired after 25 years in politics.

In 2006, Bowen was appointed to Labor’s frontbench by then Opposition Leader, Kevin Rudd, as Shadow Assistant Treasurer and Shadow Minister for Revenue and Competition Policy.

During the Rudd-Gillard government, Bowen held a wide range of ministerial portfolios, including:

  • Minister for Human Services (2009-2010);
  • Minister for Immigration and Citizenship (2010-2013);
  • Minister for Tertiary Education, Skills, Science and Research (2013); and
  • Minister for Small Business (2013).

After the Labor Government’s 2013 election defeat, Bowen served as interim Labor Leader and Acting Leader of the Opposition during the Labor leadership elections. Following the election of Bill Shorten as Labor Leader and Leader of the Opposition, Bowen was appointed Shadow Treasurer – a position he was well prepared for given his many years working in treasury portfolios.

During his time as Labor’s treasury spokesman, Bowen noted his areas of policy interest included wealth creation, housing affordability and protection of Medicare and of penalty rates. He was also the Opposition’s most vocal advocate for a Royal Commission into banking.

In the lead up to the 2019 Federal Election, many believed that Bowen was Australia’s next Treasurer-in-waiting. However, this was not to be, following Prime Minister Scott Morrison historic election upset that saw the Coalition form a majority government, and reduce Labor’s numbers in the House of Representatives.

In June 2019, after Anthony Albanese was appointed Labor Leader, uncontested, Bowen was moved from the shadow treasury portfolio to the shadow health portfolio, replacing well known health advocate Catherine King.

Upon appointment Bowen released a statement outlining his biggest focuses for the portfolio area, including:

  • Tackling the scourge of diabetes, obesity and the other health challenges in areas of low income and poor health outcomes;
  • Closing the Gap of Indigenous disadvantage in health;
  • Maintaining a passionate interest in mental health and suicide prevention; and
  • Ensuring Medicare is protected and grown.

The statement also reflected that, as the longest serving Shadow Treasurer in Australian history, it was time to hand over the portfolio. Bowen also used the opportunity to acknowledge the work of Catherine King, noting her six years advocating for a better healthcare system for all Australians.

The health sector has welcomed Bowen’s appointment, citing his extensive previous experience and his ability for pragmatic and forward thinking. The Consumer Health Forum released a statement outlining that Bowen brings an impressive record to his new portfolio.

Consumer Health Forum CEO, Leanne Wells, said it was “encouraging to see that he (Bowen) has wasted no time setting out his key priorities, including countering obesity, mental illness and close the gap of indigenous health disadvantage”.

Any industry hopes of a bi-partisan approach to health may have already been dashed. Following Bowen’s appointment to the health portfolio, Minister for Health, Greg Hunt, said in a Tweet: “ Congratulations to Chris Bowen as Labor Health Spokesperson – however, he’s the man who forgot to allocate any funding for a hospital’s agreement despite pledging to do so for 6 years – big promises – zero dollars when it counted.”

The next three years will be critical for the Australian health landscape, with many in the industry wanting a clear and concise policy agenda to be set, so as to sure up investment and funding. The next three years will be one of keen interest and industry engagement for both Greg Hunt and Chris Bowen, as they attempt to make inroads to tackle the most pressing issues facing the sector.

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