Policy Snapshots

  • Saving Medibank and saving health $$$
  • Democratic engagement can come at a price
  • Valuing unpaid work
  • Between a blog and a hard place: advertising in the news media
  • Remembering Menzies

Saving Medibank and saving health $$$

A new alliance has launched a community campaign to save Medibank. The Government plans to sell off the publicly owned private health fund, which is currently Australia's largest health insurer. 'Save Medibank' wants to see Medibank remain a not-for-profit fund, and to take a leadership role by encouraging members to participate in preventative health programs and providing alternatives to hospital care. Save Medibank alliance member the Community and Public Sector Union has made a submission to the ACCC regarding the proposed sale; it provides an account of the potential consequences of sale for Medibank employees, members, and the public interest. The campaign is conducting an online survey of community views on the sale.

The Centre for Policy Development Chair John Menadue made this submission to the current parliamentary inquiry into health funding. Menadue emphasises that the community is currently excluded from health debates invariably conducted between ministers and doctor — an informed and engaged citizenry is crucial to setting health funding priorities. Menadue's suggestions include shifting the focus from hospital bed provision to home and community based care; greater attention to public health and prevention programs; and a restructuring of a rigidly segmented health workforce. Menadue also describes the annual $3 billion subsidy to private health insurance as a “glaring policy failure” that undermines the role of Medicare, proposing an alternative system based on co-payments by individuals and direct funding to private hospitals.

Democratic engagement can come at a price

The Centre for Policy Development's Common Wealth manifesto places a high premium on democratic engagement. Here Norm Kelly of the Democratic Audit of Australia summarises how basic participation in the formal political process – voting – is in danger of being re-cast from a citizens' traditional civic ‘responsibility to vote' into ‘a right to vote'. (You might remember that Labor MHR Michael Danby argued against the Howard Government's electoral reforms on the Centre for Policy Development in May, explaining the agenda for change.) Larissa Behrendt shows that the changes will have a disproportionate impact on Indigenous people, who only won the federal vote in 1962 – the Indigenous population is young, mobile and over-represented in prisons.

While politicians vote to restrict the right to vote, what of the right to protest? In December 2004 Tasmanian forestry heavyweight Gunns Ltd. sued 20 campaigners, activists and Greens members of parliament for interfering with its business. We note that this week Justice Bernard Bongiorno rejected Gunns' third statement of claim in its entirety; it has until 19 October to decide if will introduce a fourth statement of claim. The Wilderness Society, whose employees are at the centre of the Gunns case, have produced a report that argues for public participation law reform, in light of their costly and stressful experience.

Valuing unpaid work

The Sydney Morning Herald reports that people in areas of high unemployment will soon be offered up to $5000 to take up jobs in high employment areas. This UK report, based on research by the New Economics Foundation, evaluates the vast amount of informal, unpaid work undertaken in disadvantaged neighbourhoods by “people frequently considered a 'drain on society' ”. The report demonstrates that this work performs important functions: ensuring social cohesion, providing care, preventing crime. It urges UK policy-makers to conceive of these ‘welfare clients' as assets, warning that they will be “prevented from carrying on this vital work [if] they are forced instead into low paid work”. See also contributions to the Welfare to Work conference, featured on Snapshots over recent weeks.

Between a blog and a hard place: advertising in the news media

Emma Dawson introduced last week's policy email, writing “we rely on the media for essential information…But with ever-shrinking editorial budgets in the print media, attacks on the independence of our public broadcasters, and a landscape increasingly dominated by spin and infotainment, the future of the media is uncertain.” In this article published on Creative Economy, journalist Margaret Simons takes a look at the increasingly blurred boundaries between advertising space and news content. Simons' contribution raises crucial questions about the implications of company mergers under the new media ownership laws.

Remembering Menzies

Political scientist Judy Brett has pointed out that the Labor Party is much better at remembering and mythologising its past than the Liberal Party. Yet over the past decade John Howard has placed history at the centre of political discussions, explaining at the recent History Summit that his Government wants “to bring about a renaissance of both interest in and understanding of Australian history”. Robert Menzies is the subject of both Brett's Robert Menzies' forgotten people and Gerard Henderson's Menzies' Child: The Liberal Part of Australia 1944 — 1994. Malcolm Fraser remembers the liberal luminary here in an address for Henderson's Sydney Institute. Fraser surveys Menzies' legacy: Commonwealth funding of a university system free from political interference; generous foreign and humanitarian aid allocations; and a bi-partisan commitment to avoiding divisive race-based political campaigns. Fraser wonders, along the way, what Menzies would have made of the current state of play. His speech might also prompt us to wonder at the popular understanding of Howard as a 1950s man: the comparison is proved glib.

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