The Coalition’s Healthcare Policy

Tony Abbott’s release of the Coalition’s Policy to Support Australia’s Healthcare System is a welcome move for the healthcare sector. The Coalition’s commitment to provide funding certainty for the sector and faster access to medicines and accelerate clinical trials has been warmly welcomed by the industry.

Timely Access to New Medicines

The Coalition will provide faster access to newly approved medicines by:

  • Restoring the independence of the Pharmaceutical Benefits Advisory Committee (PBAC) by removing Labor’s requirement that all PBAC recommendations go before Cabinet for final approval
  • Authorising the Health Minister to list medicines that have been recommended by the PBAC and will not cost more than $20 million a year over the first four years of listing
  • Working with the sector to accelerate reforms of clinical trials to reduce complexity and rationalise the number of ethics committees.

Medicines Australia has welcomed the Coalition’s announcement with Chief Executive, Dr Brendan Shaw saying:

“Medicines Australia has been calling for years for the restoration of confidence in the independence and integrity of the Pharmaceutical Benefits Advisory Committee (PBAC) that is why we are backing today’s announcement.”

Click here to read Medicines Australia’s full statement:

Support Hospitals

The Coalition will focus on devolving services to local hospitals by:

  • Delivering greater community involvement in the management and responsibility of local hospitals
  • Providing a more efficient funding model for hospitals through activity-based funding
  • Reinvesting in private health insurance once fiscal circumstances allow by restoring the private health insurance rebate.

Rebuilding Primary Care

The Coalition is seeking to strengthen the primary care workforce by:

  • Investing $119 million over four years to double the Practice Incentive Payment (PIP) for teaching to further invest in general practice and medical training
  • Working with stakeholders to review and streamline red tape for general practice
  • Providing $52.5 million to provide infrastructure grants to expand existing general practices for teaching and supervision
  • Creating 500 additional nursing and allied health scholarships for students and health professionals in areas of need.

Investing in Medical Internships

The Coalition will manage the growth in medical student numbers by:

  • Committing $40 million over the forward estimates to support up to 100 additional intern places each year in private hospitals and non-traditional settings
  • Working with states, territories, universities, private hospitals and other relevant stakeholders to improve national coordination of intern positions.

Other Key Initiatives

Other elements of the Coalition’s policy include:

  • Investing $46.4 million over the next four years to accelerate the full implementation of biennial bowel cancer screening for people aged 50 to 74 between 2015 and 2020
  • Undertaking a comprehensive assessment of the true status of the Personally Controlled Electronic Health Record implementation.
  • Supporting the development of a new National Diabetes Strategy bringing together Commonwealth, State and Territory Governments and peak organisations.
  • Providing $35 million over five years to help find a cure for Type 1 Diabetes through the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation Clinical Research Network
  • Honouring the arrangements under the National Partnership Agreement for Adult Public Dental Services and, at its expiry, transitioning adult dental services to be included under Medicare.
  • The cost of the Coalition’s policy over the forward estimates is $340 million.

Click here to read the Coalition’s Policy to Support Australia’s Healthcare System.

State by State Polling Analysis

On Tuesday, Campaign Watch reported that recent polling results showed promising signs for the Coalition, in both the two party preferred results and in the personal approval ratings.

Queensland, however, has been a notable exception. The latest Newspoll shows that since returning to the Prime Ministership, Mr Rudd has improved Labor’s primary vote in the state by 8 points. Mr Rudd has focussed on this advantage, spending a great deal more time campaigning in the State than Mr Abbott. Clearly on the offensive, Labor is hoping to win the seats of Longman, Moreton, Forde and Brisbane from the Coalition. Mr Abbott, on the other hand, has spent proportionally more time in Victoria, NSW and Tasmania and particularly in non-Liberal seats. Mr Rudd’s decision to focus on Queensland is a serious gamble for Labor.  As Anthony Green notes, the party has never won a Federal election without gaining a majority of seats in NSW.

Both parties have been judicious in their campaign promises, targeting key marginal seats but for different reasons. Labor seems to be announcing funding on the defensive to shore up potentially losable seats, while the Coalition has focussed on incumbent Labor seats. Labor’s Michelle Rowland, for example, has recently announced $9.5 million towards local sports funding in Greenway, an electorate she holds by a slim margin. Similarly, Malcolm Turnbull and Liberal candidate for Lindsay, Fiona Scott, have announced $300,000 to improve public safety in the electorate, in the hope of winning the seat back from Assistant Treasurer David Bradbury.

Coalitions puts productivity on the agenda

The Coalition’s Shadow Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations, Eric Abetz, has announced that a Coalition government would seek to ensure that wage rises are linked to productivity increases. Mr Abetz pointed to a significant flaw in the current Fair Work framework, which currently does not provide a mechanism for ensuring that wage increases are linked to productivity.

Under the new policy, unions seeking excessively high pay rises, or pay rises above the rate of inflation, would be required to show the Fair Work Commission that a genuine discussion on productivity has been conducted. The move is in line with the Coalition’s aim of restoring the balance between all parties’ interests to a ‘sensible centre’.

The announcement comes at a time of prominent industrial disputes under the current Labor Government. The Maritime Union of Australia has signalled potential industrial action against oil and gas contractors at the Gorgon project in Western Australia, should their demands for a 24% per cent wage increase and other benefits be refused. Workplace Relations Minister Bill Shorten had earlier suggested protective action was unlikely to occur. Meanwhile in Victoria, officials of the Construction, Forestry and Mining and Energy Union have announced they will not contest that they acted in contravention of court orders in a dispute with Grocon.

The link between productivity and wage negotiations was first flagged by the Liberal Party in their Fair Work policy released in May 2013. The policy emphasised that putting productivity back on the agenda in workplace negotiations is vital for wage growth, job creation and sustainable wage increases in the long run. The policy document outlined two further strategies for promoting effective and sensible enterprise bargaining, including remedying the ‘strike first, talk later’ approach exploited under the Fair Work Act and ensuring bargaining claims are realistic and sensible to ensure effective negotiations.