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The Whitlams, hidden messages and the saga of health reform

The notion that popular songs might contain hidden messages has generated a lot of headlines for The Beatles and other bands over the years.

But it is probably not nearly as well known that The Whitlams have also been incorporating some cleverly disguised analysis of health reform and the ever-shuffling health ministers into their lyrics.

At least that’s how one musically inclined health industry insider has been interpreting one of their songs, ‘I Make Hamburgers’ (words and music by Tim Freedman, from Undeniably the Whitlams, 1994).

Our correspondent – who feels obliged to remain anonymous, given the repercussions for those in the system who speak frankly in public – writes:

“With the passing of the decade, our thoughts, and fantasies, turn to health reform.  Here, in New South Wales, we have had so many Health Ministers in recent times that policy development feels like a string of flirtations, rather than anything vaguely resembling a committed relationship with the health system.

In fact, and with apologies to anyone who wasn’t listening to Triple J in the mid-nineties, if health reform were a song, it most closely approximates the hamburger song, by The Whitlams, as evidenced below:

My first customer was Megan, she came in for a hamburger with the lot, no meat. “Hey, that’s a salad roll”, I said, and we started going out.

Morris Iemma 2 April 2003 – 3 August 2005

Just five years ago, when Bob Carr was Premier, the Minister for Health was Morris Iemma.  Morris was willing to listen.  A family man, who brought the kids along to meetings, he took the time to know names and learn the lingo.  Morris had grand plans to make the NSW health system safe for ordinary people, like his mother, but when he stepped up as Premier in August 2005, we were left feeling that the fried egg and the beetroot had also been left out of the glossy brochure.

My second customer was Susan, she came in for Diet Pepsi, morning tea, each day.  I said “you don’t need to be on a diet, do you wanna come out tonight?”

John Hatzistergos 10 August 2005 – 2 April 2007

Next came Hatz.  Sleek, smart and detached, we knew from the start that he wouldn’t waste any empty calories on health.  He had Attorney General in his sights.

My third customer was Maria, she came in for hot chips and sauce.  “More sauce”, she said.  “Hey, now you’re talking.”  She took me home to meet her mother.

Reba Meagher 2 April 2007 – 5 September 2008

The Grim Reba got sauce a-plenty, inheriting a system overflowing with discontent.  A waiting room incident frothed into the perfect media storm, generating a series of inquiries.  Given the circumstances, it was understandable that she wouldn’t let go of the departmental apron strings.  She was never without her minders, but then again, her ex-boyfriend is a little pushy.

My fourth customer was Sandy, she came in for nothing I could see, except me.

John Della Bosca 8 September 2008 – 1 September 2009

Della showed real promise.  He was amiable, intelligent, experienced, and he seemed prepared to put in the hard yards.  He took us to see Garling, and the G-rated re-make, Caring Together.  But, we misread the signs.  The haircut, gym membership and trendy new rags were not for us.  After eating his hamburger (of sorts), he eventually decided that the food was better at home.

Meanwhile, we were making new friends in Canberra.

I said, “I’ll bring Gringo, he’s got a lot of money, and he’ll take us to the bars where they’ve got a view.  He’ll buy us those beers, they give it to you in bottles, they put lemon in the top, and it don’t taste too bad, I’m telling you.”

Kevin Rudd  and Nicola Roxon 3 December 2007 –

After being kept at arm’s length, for years, by Tony Abbott and John Howard, Kevin 07 got our hearts all a-flutter, inviting us into his tent for a gigantic slumber party, replete with finger-food and pie-charts.

K Rudd, with his trusty sidekick Nicola, gave us the 2020 Summit, the National Health and Hospitals Reform Commission, the National Preventative Health Taskforce, the Productivity Commission review of public and private hospitals, and a series of brand-spanking new committees, each with a website and consultation list of their very own.

Finally, we thought, someone ready to settle down, in it for the long-haul, for better or for worse.  We drank our imported beers and shared our dreams for the future, not realising that the PM had left the party early and we were conveniently buzzing on the wrong side of the flyscreen.  Hardly a fair shake of the sauce bottle, Kev.

I make hamburgers, I get all the girls, and I take ‘em out to dinner and I give ‘em all a whirl.

While governments have churned through Ministers, Premiers, and a small army of ravenous staffers, the personnel on the other side of the counter have changed remarkably little.

There we all are: at community consultations; in the newspaper and on the radio; at seminars and meetings; sipping flat whites in the coffee shop at Governor Macquarie Tower; eating sandwiches in Parliament House; wielding our spatulas, enthusiastically, in the inverted commas and footnotes of the plethora of state and federal government reports into the health system which have sprung up in the last few years, none with any reference to the others.

Always the bridesmaid, never the bride.  It feels like we are waiting for someone to commit.  We’re sick of fast food. We’re ready to sink our teeth into something meatier, something more nutritious.  We have the ingredients, and the recipes, we just need someone to change the tune.

Carmel Tebbutt 14 September 2009 –

Carmel?”

Comments 3

  1. Doctor Whom says:

    Never been a fan of Tim and The Whitlams, although the originals (EGW and Marg) had a few good moments.

    From afar few NSW pollies seem worthy of praise and the Health Ministers even less so.

    The big fear from those outside NSW is that Nic and Ruddies’ little (big) plans are chiefly designed to fix the wreck that is NSW Health.

    The the rest of us will have to go along with a schemozzle of changes that might fix NSW but will only impose extra costs and reporting requirements with no health improvements.

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#IHMayDay18
#LoveRural 2014
Croakey Conference News Service 2013 – 2019
2013 conferences
Australian Centre for Health Services Innovation Forum 2013
Australian Health Promotion Association Conference 2013
Closing the Credibility Gap 2013
CRANAplus Conference 2013
FASD Conference 2013
Health Workforce Australia 2013
International Health Literacy Network Conference 2013
NACCHO Summit 2013
National Rural Health Conference 2013
Oceania EcoHealth Symposium 2013
PHAA conference 2013
2014 conferences
#IPCHIV14
AIDA Conference 2014
Congress Lowitja 2014
CRANAplus conference 2014
Cultural Solutions - Healing Foundation forum 2014
Lowitja Institute Continuous Quality Improvement conference 2014
National Suicide Prevention Conference 2014
Racism and children/youth health symposium 2014
Rural & Remote Health Scientific Symposium 2014
2015 conferences
#CPHCEforum
#CRANAplus15
#HSR15
#NRHC15
#OTCC15
Population Health Congress 2015
2016 conferences
#AHHAsim16
#AHMRC16
#ANROWS2016
#ATSISPEP
#AusCanIndigenousWellness
#cphce2016
#CPHCEforum16
#CRANAplus2016
#IAMRA2016
#LowitjaConf2016
#PreventObesity16
#TowardsRecovery
#VMIAC16
#WearablesCEH
#WICC2016
2017 conferences
#17APCC
#ACEM17
#AIDAconf2017
#BTH20
#CATSINaM17
#ClimateHealthStrategy
#IAHAConf17
#IDS17
#LBQWHC17
#LivingOurWay
#OKtoAskAu
#OTCC2017
#ResearchTranslation17
#TheMHS2017
#VMIACConf17
#WCPH2017
Australian Palliative Care Conference