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Ok Kevin, now it’s time for health

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The AMA has urged the major political parties to sharpen the policy focus on health now that Labor’s long-running leadership woes have been resolved.

Responding to the decision of Labor’s parliamentary caucus to reinstate Kevin Rudd as leader almost three years to the day after dumping him in favour of Julia Gillard, the AMA said it was now time to turn attention to urgent health issues.

Hopes have been raised that poorly conceived measures such as the controversial $2000 cap on tax deductions for work-related self-education expenses might be discarded after Mr Rudd indicated on his return to the prime ministership that he would review Government policies.

On Friday, Mr Rudd reaffirmed his Government’s commitment to the Gonski education reforms, but he has yet to make public comment on health reform, which was a centrepiece of his first term in office.

In an early pitch for fresh approach to pressing health issues, AMA Vice President Professor Geoffrey Dobb last Thursday asked Mr Rudd to not only dump the tax deduction cap, but challenged both major political parties to outline plans for a long-term solution to looming bottlenecks in medical training, upgrade support for general practice, increase public hospital capacity and vastly improve health services to immigration centre detainees – particularly children.

“The AMA looks forward to a real debate between the major parties in the lead-up to the election, showing how they will tackle these and other pressing issues that are vital to ensuring Australians continue to receive high quality health care,” Professor Dobb said.

Late last week it was still unclear whether Tanya Plibersek would remain as Health Minister, though Mr Rudd has so far shown little inclination to dump frontbenchers who have not already resigned of their own accord.

Several Cabinet ministers quit in the wake of Ms Gillard’s party room loss, including Treasurer Wayne Swan, Trade Minister Craig Emerson, School Education Minister Peter Garrett, Communications Minister Stephen Conroy and Agriculture Minister Joe Ludwig.

Mr Rudd is expected to reveal the composition of his ministry today.

Several major health programs and policy changes initiated by Mr Rudd in his first term are still being rolled out or bedded down.

Among them is the much-maligned GP Super Clinics program, which was the subject of a damning report from the Auditor-General last month.

The scheme has been dogged by cost overruns and lengthy delays, and the AMA has urged the Government to halt any further expenditure and instead divert unspent funds to the far more effective program to upgrade general practice infrastructure.

Mr Rudd also oversaw the introduction of Medicare Locals, and an ambitious program of reforms to the funding of public hospitals.