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02 Aug 2016

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has taken a much more hands-on role in health policy as the Coalition Government seeks to improve its performance in an area that emerged as a major area of political weakness at the Federal election.

Just days after winning the knife-edge 2 July poll, the Prime Minister met with AMA President Dr Michael Gannon, and it has been revealed that late last month he took the unusual step of personally attending the first high-level meeting between Health Minster Sussan Ley and senior Health Department bureaucrats since the election.

In a speech announcing his new Ministry on 18 July, Mr Turnbull revealed he had already met with Dr Gannon and anticipated working closely with doctors over the next three years.

“I am confident we will have a better working relationship with the AMA and its GP membership,” the Prime Minister said.

The Prime Minster followed this up a week later by joining with Ms Ley in meeting Government health officials to discuss the Coalition’s election agenda and plans for health.

The intense focus on health at the highest levels of the Government reflects widespread acceptance in Coalition ranks that it was an area of vulnerability that was ruthlessly exploited by Labor during the election campaign, costing it many votes and bringing it to the brink of a first-term loss.

The importance of health in the election was underlined by an Essential Media report that found health trumped all other policy concerns in the minds of voters, including the economy.

Sixty per cent of voters said health policies were very important in deciding who they voted for at the recent election, with Medicare a close second at 58 per cent. Economic management came third at 53 per cent.

Reflecting this, a majority of voters (55 per cent) said investing in health should be the top priority for Government, compared with 31 per cent for education and 27 per cent who wanted spending cut to reduce the deficit.

Ms Ley, who was accused by some within the Coalition of ‘going missing’ during the election campaign, welcomed the Prime Minister’s interest in her portfolio.

“I am delighted that we have kicked off the current term of Government with a high-level conversation, because of course he is interested in health, as he is in every single area of government,” the Health Minister told ABC radio. “It’s terrific for me to have a Prime Minister so dedicated to the cause and so understanding of the need for a health system that supports all Australians, one that we can both pay for and deliver.”

Reflecting on the tight election result, Mr Turnbull indicated that the Coalition needed to change its approach in health, raising hopes that unpopular decisions like the Medicare rebate freeze and public hospital funding cuts might be revisited, though Ms Ley was non-committal.

“I understand people’s concerns and I am very keen that we take those concerns into account as we move forward. MYEFO [Mid-Year Economic and Fiscal Outlook] is at the end of this year, the Budget is next year, all of these things will play into to usual business of Government.”

Adrian Rollins

Published: 02 Aug 2016