With the Liberal leadership crisis lurching into a third day, even seasoned political journalists have expressed their surprise at the extent of dysfunction within government.
While the political sideshow continues, health groups and advocates are expressing their concerns about the implications of this political melt-down for our health system and the broader health and well-being of vulnerable groups in the community.
Jennifer Doggett summarises some of the main issues being raised by the sector, below.
Jennifer Doggett writes:
Concerns about Peter Dutton as potential Prime Minister top the list of concerns being raised by health advocates, given his views on issues affecting Indigenous Australians, LGTBI people and other minority groups.
If anyone needs reminding, Peter Dutton was one of a handful of Liberal MPs who boycotted the apology to the Stolen Generations in 2008 and as Home Affairs Minister has actively supported the continued detention of refugees, including children. He has also voted against same sex marriage and opposed extending government benefits to same sex couples.
Indigenous and community leaders have expressed their concern about how a Dutton Prime Ministership could hinder the progress of reconciliation efforts and threaten the mental health and well-being of Indigenous Australians and other racial minorities.
Indigenous Labor MP Linda Burney stated:
“We’ve seen him make comments about African youth down in Victoria and I cannot see him supporting the notion of constitutional reform, in terms of an Indigenous voice to the parliament,” she said. “I think it will bear very badly for minorities and particularly for Aboriginal people.”
— Vanessa (@VanessaJDodd) August 22, 2018
.@PeterDutton_MP was Federal Health Minister early in my time as AMA Vice President. If his record is repeated as Prime Minister, I shudder at the consequences for the vulnerable in our community #auspol
— Stephen Parnis (@SParnis) August 23, 2018
Having been in Federal Parliament since 2006, Dutton now has a clear record of voting against a broad range of health and social justice initiatives including tobacco plain packaging, stem cell research, decreasing the private health insurance rebate, increasing the price of subsidised medicine, increasing the age pension, increasing availability of abortion drugs and increasing restrictions on gambling.
While (as Tony Abbott discovered) there are limitations on how far a Prime Minister can push the more liberal elements of his partyroom towards his more conservative social and political agenda, it is still extremely concerning to have a potential national leader with positions on these issues at odds with most health experts and advocates.
Questions are also being asked about the implications of ongoing instability at the political level for the health system more generally.
With a revolving door approach to replacing Prime Ministers and Health Ministers it can be difficult to develop and sustain a longer term health reform agenda.
Many of the key challenges facing the health of our community, such as climate change, rising rates of chronic disease and increasing wealth inequality, require a broad and long-term focus that can outlast political cycles and changes of government.
This instability affects some central areas of the health system, such as general practice and rural health, as the departing Health Minister Greg Hunt has relied on a series of “compacts” with various health stakeholder groups to drive policy in these areas. The status of these “compacts” under a new Minister is unclear and leaves scope for unwelcome and unanticipated changes to these key programs.
Specific concerns have been raised by the Federation of AIDS Organisations about the implications of the leadership crisis for the draft National Blood-Borne Virus and Sexually Transmitted Infections Strategies, which are are yet to be approved, as well as high priority issues such as HIV self-testing.
— Geir O'Rourke (@geirorourke) August 23, 2018
There are a swag of APS portfolios without ministers as the Turnbull government appears to be in a state of collapse https://t.co/HDmVfiMp14
— The Mandarin (@TheMandarinAU) August 23, 2018
— Gemma Crawford (@gemmacrawford) August 23, 2018
— Eryk Bagshaw (@ErykBagshaw) August 23, 2018
The implications of the leadership crisis for pressing environmental problems has also been a focus of comments from the Twittersphere. In particular, the difficulties facing rural communities in NSW and other parts of Australia affected by the current drought.
— Fran Baum (@baumfran) August 23, 2018
“Drought grips the country, bushfires sweep the east coast in winter, #ClimateChange alarm is intensifying, power prices are soaring and the Liberal Party is eating itself alive” – @micksfoley @thelandnews https://t.co/3dCBK19vn9
— Farmers for Climate Action (@farmingforever) August 23, 2018
On the plus side, the Liberals implosion has provided the opportunity for impressive displays of leadership from other sources, notably the Greens leader Richard Di Natale. Mention should also be made of Minister for Indigenous Health, Ken Wyatt, who called for an end to instability within the party.
— Richard Di Natale (@RichardDiNatale) August 23, 2018
Peter Dutton's record as Health Minister:
? $57b in hospital cuts
? Medicare rebate freeze
?⚕️ GP co-payment
? Increase to PBS co-payment
✂️ Cuts to dental and prevention
? Began Medicare payments system privatisation
PM Peter Dutton will slash and burn health care.
— Catherine King MP (@CatherineKingMP) August 22, 2018
Ken Wyatt pleads for integrity from colleagues https://t.co/yghvEoyrs1
— Ken Wyatt MP (@KenWyattMP) August 23, 2018
Preparing to protest. Or move country. Prob both. #duttonisvoldemort
— Lisa Whop (@Lisa_J_Whop) August 23, 2018
You can’t make this up. Ministerial and parliamentary staff have just received an email celebrating the launch of a new counselling service for employees which includes “conflict resolution” #libspill pic.twitter.com/7mQGvFASty
— Annika Smethurst (@annikasmethurst) August 23, 2018
But there’s one group who can’t help smiling about the leadership tussle.
Labor knows from bitter experience the price that political parties pay at the polls for in-fighting and disunity. The more public and messy the leadership battle gets, the greater chance Labor has of a win at the next election.
For health groups interested in influencing government policies, this will mean re-focussing lobbying strategies on Labor and the Greens, leaving the Coalition to sort out its internal issues before re-engaging with them and the new Health Minister.
— Senator Penny Wong (@SenatorWong) August 23, 2018
And…there are always some impressive contenders for the ‘you have to laugh or you would cry’ awards…
— Lee Lin Chin (@LeeLinChin) August 23, 2018
I was assessing a patient’s cognition/memory today and one of the standard questions is, “who’s the current prime minister?”
— Nurse Robbie (@nurse_robbie) August 23, 2018