Issue 4 / 26 July 2010

Am I the only one missing the days when Julia Gillard and Tony Abbott actually had forthright exchanges about matters of substance? Even the worm couldn’t get excited about last night’s debate.

When the two faced off in the health portfolio, their encounters were often fiery, funny, even disconcertingly flirtatious. (If you find it hard to believe Julia ever flirted with Tony, check out the compilation on YouTube below)

Gillard is widely seen as having cut her political teeth during her time in the health portfolio and, when the two locked horns, Abbott often seemed unnerved by the shadow minister’s tough, humorous style.

She could be a “charming companion” on those rare occasions when she let her hair down, Abbott said of his Labor counterpart at the time, while she described him as “a deeply eccentric human being”.

Whatever you made of their personalities or policies, you did at least have the sense of two driven, passionate people who had something to say about the issues.

OK, it wasn’t all good. There was Gillard’s short-lived Medicare Gold concoction (a 2004 proposal to provide free hospital care for people aged 75 and over) and Abbott’s sometimes bizarre attempts to impose personal views about issues like abortion on the rest of us. But at least it was interesting.

Those days are gone. Now that the pair – dubbed “Punch and Judy” by former AMA president Bill Glasson – are again pitted against each other in a fight for the nation’s top job, they seem to be competing to see who can say the least about any given topic.

Even their respective slogans are hard to tell apart. What do “real action” and “moving forward” actually mean?

So far, the rhetoric from both sides is overwhelmingly negative.

One lot will apparently slash health budgets and destroy services for patients. The other will bring down the health system through colossal mismanagement.

Maybe the vague promises will translate to real changes in the health system. Maybe.

I reckon, instead of moving the televised leaders’ election debate to avoid a clash with MasterChef, they should have put Julia and Tony in the kitchen, and make them attempt one of those impossible eight-layered cakes devised by Sydney chef Adriano Zumbo, and let the Australian people vote on which one produced the least inedible result.

Oh, and for those interested in what Twitter has to say about the political process, my favourite tweet so far: “If you have an election for more than four hours, you should consult a health professional …”

Jane McCredie is a Sydney-based science and medicine writer. She has worked for Melbourne’s The Age and contributed to publications including the BMJ, The Australian and the Sydney Morning Herald. She is also a former news and features editor with Australian Doctor magazine. Her book, The sex factory, on the science of sex and gender will be published by UNSW Press later this year.

Posted 26 July, 2010

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