“Horse race journalism is a reusable model for how to do campaign coverage in which you focus on who’s going to win rather than what the country needs to settle by electing a prime minister,” he said.
It’s an approach that frames the election as a sporting event, with journalists as the insiders, rather than asking: “What do the people of Australia want this campaign to be about? What are the issues they want to see the candidates discussing?”
Today Croakey kicks off a health election series. It’s for those looking for something more meaty than a racing commentary. But it’s a reminder that moving beyond horse race journalism requires all of us doing better – not only journalists.
There will be a lot of reading at Croakey over the next week or so. It will take effort and thought. I hope you think it’s worth putting in some.
Join the discussion. Comment on the posts – or let me know if you’re interested in putting up a post yourself. If you think an article merits wider attention, send the link to your family, friends and colleagues.
Engage and contribute. An informed debate is not only the responsibility of politicians or journalists.
Thanks to Ian Olver, ceo of Cancer Council Australia, for being first out of the stalls (sorry, I couldn’t resist the racing analogy after all).
Where are cancer policies in the campaign?
From Cancer Council Australia’s perspective, it’s much easier to analyse the two major political parties’ pre-election health policies to date by what’s missing. Unlike 2004 and 2007, there has been no cancer plan from either party. And unless this changes in the next week, we are at risk of going backwards in cancer control.
Most alarmingly, key measures introduced following the 2004 and 2010 elections may prove to be temporary fixes rather than ongoing commitments to what the evidence shows is most effective in reducing our cancer burden.
The most salient example is the National Bowel Cancer Screening Program, whose introduction was a bipartisan commitment in 2004. It started with a one-off test for people turning 55 and 65, when Tony Abbott was health minister and Julia Gillard shadow health minister, and was expanded by Labor’s addition of 50-year-olds as a 2007 election pledge.
Now, with no funding beyond this financial year and silence from both major parties, there are concerns for the future of a program that could save 30 Australian lives each week if available as a biennial test to everyone aged 50 and over.
By contrast, the BreastScreen Australia program was fully operational within five years of a whole-of-government commitment in 1990. It’s unimaginable that a vital breast cancer initiative could drag on, almost unnoticed by mainstream media, with the same inertia as the bowel cancer screening program has done. Yet more Australians die of bowel cancer – and population-based screening for bowel cancer through faecal occult blood testing would be just as effective in saving lives as mammography is for reducing breast cancer mortality.
The 2004 and 2007 election campaigns also paved the way for the first ever national skin cancer awareness campaign and funding for independent cancer clinical trials. There is no commitment to continuing these initiatives, even though sustained effort underpins the benefits of both.
Unlike 2004 and 2007, the budget is in deficit, which might explain the absence of a national cancer plan – assuming there are no announcements in the campaign’s final week. But some things simply have to be funded, and I believe life-saving cancer initiatives would be a priority for most voters even in a tight economic climate. Particularly when our recommendations are also cost-effective, with the returns beginning to accrue as soon as the investment is made. And when millions of dollars are being allocated for localised health commitments.
We would also like to see a commitment from all parties to plain packaging of tobacco products. The reversal of what was a world-leading initiative in cancer control would be a backward step and a victory for global tobacco industry interests.
Around 350,000 Australians are expected to be diagnosed with cancer during the life of the next government. As we saw in 2004 and 2007 – and had hoped would be sustained – policies announced in this campaign could have a profound impact on the survival of many of these patients, their quality of life and how well we can prevent cancer in the first place.”