Health Reform

Federal Parliament – Week in Review

A big week in federal parliament with the first sittings of the year and only two sitting weeks left including budget week before the nation will be off to the polls on May 18.

The week was undeniably dominated by the Kerryn Phelps Bill being passed with the support of Labor and the crossbench that will allow for the medical transfer of asylum seekers from Manus Island and Nauru to Australia.

In a 75-74 vote the Government has become the first Government in over 80 years to lose a vote on legislation on the floor of the Parliament. But in losing the vote, it has also allowed the Government to gain the political upper hand and be talking about its preferred issue of border security.

Many pundits have claimed, this week saw the Government, in effect get some of its mojo back.

Border security is a natural strength for the Government and Prime Minister Morrison and his Ministers have been relentless all week in reminding the community that only they can be trusted on border security against a weak Bill Shorten and Labor Party.

Make no mistake, there will be a bruising and brutal campaign on the issue of border security that will run from now until election day. It is a political Achilles heel for Labor, and they will be hoping it won’t become the defining issue of the federal election.

In other issues, on Thursday the Prime Minister delivered the 11th annual Closing the Gap statement to Parliament, which provides an update to the nation on progress that has been made in alleviating indigenous disadvantage.

In a sobering statement the Prime Minister reported that only two of seven targets showed positive progress – year 12 attainment and early childhood progress. The challenge of alleviating indigenous disadvantage is one that continues and also one that garners bipartisan support.

The Prime Minister made a signature announcement, that being teachers who commit to go and teach in a remote aboriginal community for 4 years will have the entirety of their HECS wiped. A good initiative which will helpfully see Aboriginal kids have access to some of our best and brightest teachers.

On Wednesday the Shadow Health Minister Catherine King gave a major speech to the National Press Club, outlining some key Labor health policy objectives.

At its core was a commitment to establish in Government a permanent Australian Health Reform Commission which will as the Shadow Minister stated will be, “comparable to the Productivity Commission”.

Its mandate will be to develop and oversee a long-term health reform agenda. By the Shadow Ministers own admission, it wont win votes, but is being done “….because it’s the right thing to do, in the long-term interests of the country.”

The work of the Commissions will be driven by COAG in recognition that a Federal Health Minister alone cannot solve all the nation’s health policy challenges and to also ensure that all States have equal buy in, in both identifying the problems, coming up with solutions and hopefully the means to fund them as well.

Lastly the Government dropped its legislation to introduce their ‘big stick’ energy reforms, which would have given the them the power to regulate power companies and will take this proposal to the election.

Concerned that they may lose another vote on the floor of the Parliament, the Government thought it was better to withdraw and live to fight another day.

That’s the week in review.

P.S.  Next week, only the House of Representatives is sitting as the Senate will be holding Senate Estimate committee hearings.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Jody Fassina is the Managing Director of Insight Strategy and has been an strategic adviser to MedTech and pharmaceutical stakeholders.

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