“I think it’s a sad reflection on the modern Australian attitude that they can’t see that all areas have to make a contribution and they look at it as a narrow, sectional issue.”

Commission of Audit Chair, Tony Shepherd, on responses to the Federal Budget, May 23*

This week my daughter turned fifteen, and she went to the doctor—a political act in modern Australia.

She went because of a constellation of puzzling symptoms which we’ve been sort of monitoring for a few months. Finally, we came to the conclusion that these symptoms are persistent, significant, and affecting her school attendance, and we couldn’t diagnose them ourselves. So off she went.

Our GP asked her questions, considered the symptoms widely, and sent her home with the trifecta of health care copayment: a prescription, and referrals to both pathology and diagnostics.

Whether these tests find something, or nothing, she learned something that will affect her future health care costs, which are entirely likely to fall on Australia’s public health system; someone who is neither a teacher nor a parent listened to her, and took her puzzling symptoms seriously, in a trustable way. And she learned a bit about how the system itself works, and what happens when you ask for help.

At fifteen, she’s entering a period of consequence well known to health professionals. Over the next few years, she’ll either take or avoid the risks that will have long-term impacts on her adult health and wellbeing. Thanks to this positive encounter with someone who minded enough to ask tactful, sensible questions, it’s just fractionally more likely that she will know that Australia’s health workers have her back. So whatever the technical results of this visit, she learned something that will last but will be very difficult for our healthcare system to measure as a positive impact.

I was thinking about this when I read this morning’s remarks by the Chair of the Commission of Audit, the group that advised the Federal Government that we bring an end to the principles of universal health care in Australia. These are the principles that mean that any teenager can learn how teenagers should be able to access healthcare services at no cost.** And here’s the thing: although we’re public health care patients, we already don’t attend a bulk billing GP practice, so the fact that the proposed health care copayments have come to matter to me as much as they do isn’t self-interested or sectional—even in the context of cancer treatment.

I can’t believe we have to spell this out in modern Australia, but what matters here is the fairness of ensuring that those who are already the most disadvantaged get the benefits of whatever we can collectively provide. This is why it’s so important that teenagers’ access to the people and services who will make most difference to their later health (and the later health costs that they impose on all of us) isn’t determined by their capacity to pay. Teenagers are minimum wage workers if they’re lucky, and they’re not all safely located in a family who can pay for them. Seven dollars is a big deal; twenty-eight dollars even more so.

So although I’m not generally one for marching and placards, tomorrow I’ll be joining the local rally to save our Medicare system from these damaging, divisive healthcare cuts, and it’s quite likely that I’ll do it again next weekend in Sydney.

This really is a turning point for modern Australia, and the evidence all around us is that Tony Shepherd is decisively wrong: it’s precisely because of how this affects other people that so many of us are taking to the streets.


If you want to know more about the Save Medicare campaign, it’s here. Do also check out Co-Payment Stories. There are campaigns being run by medical researchers who don’t want the promised squillions for their research at this social and health cost; and campaigns being run by doctors and nurses also. The coverage of all of it at Croakey blog is excellent, and there’s a Pozible crowd funding campaign to support South Western Sydney GP Tim Senior to write for Croakey here.

The Save Medicare Rally in Wollongong is at midday on Saturday 24th May, and there’s another in Sydney on 31st May.

If you’re not a marcher, here are some petitions:

And really, there’s something about this maddening Budget that is also very inspiring: its fundamental unfairness has proved that we can all still see beyond “narrow and sectional issues” to something worth standing for.


* I read this article thanks to Mary-Helen Ward.

** Thanks to Tim Klapdor for the reminder that in many regional centres there are already no bulk billing options. I’m curious about the source of our Health Minister’s “Having 70% of non-concessional patients bulk-billed is unsustainable.”  

2 Responses

  • Another concern about the budget is the absolute failure of budget defenders to acknowledge that those sectors of the economy that are not asked to do the ‘heavy lifting’ also have sectional interests. The focus on payments rather than tax exemptions in the so-called savings means that the loss of revenue as a result of benefits via the taxation system are ignored. I don’t approve of this sly act of wealth protect even though I benefit from it in terms of my superannuation.

    I, too, am heartened by the wide-spread disgust for the unfairness of the budget measures.

  • Hi Rebecca

    The key here that budget defenders are largely ignoring, is that people who either benefit or don’t particularly lose are now speaking out because they mind that others lose. This is such a fundamental principle of care: it’s not just self-interest.

    But given all this I’m still reasonably surprised at the patronising tone used to defend these measures. I think the government has very substantially misjudged the national mood on Medicare.


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