The Guardian April 12, 2000


Defend Medicare

A national campaign has been launched to defend Medicare involving trade 
unions and community groups. The campaign is organised by the Friends of 
Medicare which includes the Australian Nursing Federation, the 
Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union, the Community and Public 
Sector Union, the Australian Manufacturing Workers' Union and the Doctors' 
Reform Society.

Friends of Medicare began distributing thousands of campaign kits and 
protest postcards in support of Medicare last Friday, April 7, World Health 
Day.

The campaign is aimed at the Howard Government's lack of funding for public 
health. "The Government is hitting our universal health system twice", said 
the Secretary of the Australian Council of Trade Unions, Greg Combet.

"It is starving Medicare of vital funds, and propping up private health 
insurance with massive subsidies."

Mr Combet called Australia's free, lifetime health care system a "core 
value of Australian society". He warned that the Government's policies 
could leave Australia with a two-tier system, one for the rich and another 
under-funded one for the poor.

"Medicare has been part of our public health program since 1984 and unions 
will fight to stop it being degraded."

At the campaign's South Australian launch the State's Australian Nursing 
Federation Secretary, Gail Gago, highlighted the Government's promotion of 
private health insurance.

"The principles of Medicare are quite simple really", said Ms Gago. "We all 
share in the responsibility of making sure that good quality health care is 
available to all Australians, based on their health needs rather than their 
capacity to pay."

She noted that the private health insurance rebate established by the 
Howard Government has cost Australian taxpayers $1.8 billion, enough to 
fund 16 fully staffed hospitals each providing between 300-400 beds.

"South Australia's share of this would be around $150 million each year 
which would fully fund the cost of a hospital the size of Flinders Medical 
Centre. That means that South Australia could afford to run another large 
public hospital and fund it completely from private health insurance 
subsidies."

The launch of the Defend Medicare Campaign was only just the beginning, she 
said. Community groups, unions and consumers of health services will 
continue to work together to plan activities around making sure that all 
politicians hear the message, and ignore it at their peril.

Also speaking at the launch, Paul Laris of Friends of Medicare, pointed out 
that neither State nor Federal Governments had consistently provided 
adequate funding to meet the dramatic increases in demand for health care.

"Chronic underfunding has been used by government as evidence that our 
public hospitals are collapsing and that the system is unworkable and 
should be replaced by a privatised model.

"If the Government's priority was the health of Australians, rather than 
the profitability of private insurance companies and private hospitals, 
they would spend the money on public hospitals and there would be no 
problem."

For more information about the campaign phone 08 8363 1948

Back to index page