Issue 8 / 23 August 2010

The independent candidates and one Greens member fielding calls from their new best friends in the major parties are a mixed bag in terms of background and ideology.

Pity the Labor and Coalition strategists scrambling to find a blend of policies – and, let’s face it, bribes – that will appeal to each of them without alienating any of the others.

You’d have to bet our federal leaders will suddenly discover a desperate need for new hospital beds or GP super clinics in the seats of Lyne, Kennedy, New England and Denison.

The new member for Melbourne, the Greens’ Adam Bandt, probably won’t be demanding that sort of pork-barrelling in return for giving his support to Labor.

But, given the Greens will almost certainly also hold the balance of power in the Senate, any new government is going to have to make concessions to the party.

When it comes to health, the Greens have criticised both major parties for a lack of focus on preventive health and, along with several of the independents, have called for dental care to be covered by Medicare.

If Andrew Wilkie does succeed in wresting the Hobart seat of Denison from Labor, it’s hard to predict which way he might go.

The former intelligence officer and Iraq war whistleblower has, at different times, been a member of both the Liberal and Greens parties.

Funding to rebuild the Royal Hobart Hospital would probably help to win him over, but he also wants to see dental services covered by Medicare and substantial increases in mental health funding.

The other three independents tend to be seen as more natural allies of the Coalition, given their rural electorates and backgrounds in the National Party.

But, if the events of the weekend taught us anything, it is that there are no certainties in politics and their stated views make it clear neither side should be taking their support for granted. Labor’s national broadband network is popular with them, given its potential role in improving rural health.

Lyne’s Rob Oakeshott has welcomed both major parties’ moves towards a stronger federal role in health, though he was more impressed by the Labor model than the Coalition’s. He gave the Coalition points for their mental health policy, but preferred Labor on e-health.

Up in New England, Tony Windsor – another supporter of Medicare rebates for dental care – has signalled health will be a key factor when he decides who to support. He is not enthusiastic about health system reform, describing both parties’ approaches as “populist”.

The current system generally works well in his New England electorate, he says, and, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”.

And then there’s Bob Katter

I want to give you a clear summary of his views on health policy. I really do.

But I’m struggling.

I can tell you he doesn’t like “economic rationality”, the free market or Philippine bananas.

And, according to his website, he parted company with the Nationals after they failed to laugh at his jokes.

Hard to say what health policies might win Bob’s support but, if I were Julia or Tony, I’d be making sure I appreciated his sense of humour.

Posted 23 August, 2010

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.

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