(Above: and more David Rowe here)
It wasn't Bill Shorten's reply that stirred the pond - though stacking the public gallery with a cheering horde that sent Bronnie into an impotent frenzy was a nice touch - so much as the sight of a gormless Joe Hockey after the event demanding policies, and then without so much as a by your leave, turning on his heel and disappearing into the night, no doubt to indulge in a bout of fierce Flashdance gyrations ... (and if the thought of jolly Joe hoofing it with Jennifer Beals doesn't wake you up this TGIF, check your pulse, you might be clinically dead).
If the pond can borrow from Mark Kenny, in Tony Abbott rains down blows in budget blitz (forced video at end of link) Hockey made for a pitiful spectacle, and for all the obvious reasons:
Abbott and Hockey have pilloried the attacks on the budget over these surprises as exclusively “political”, claiming the opposition and most others have no substantive critique to offer on the economic front. Coming from a prime minister whose approach to opposition was unrelentingly “political”, Abbott’s indignation is hardly compelling.
And presumably Hockey's "policy" indignation also left Kenny cold.
But there's where the pond must diverge from Kenny, because Hockey's performance was compelling, especially as it made all those cartoon comparisons to the grumpy monster Shrek come to startling life. If this has been the best week of Hockey's life, the long absent lord help the rest of the weeks.
Hockey's reply to the post-budget reply - delivered with panto sighs and exaggerated suffering - was a sight even more comical than the filthy, foul-mouthed poodle Pyne gesturing to Bronnie to come to heel and wrap up the applause for Bill Shorten (oh yes, he did, yes the foul-mouthed poodle did, and yes, like a well-trained heeler, Bronnie stood to attention. Has the foul-mouthed poodle got some treats concealed up his sleeve?)
Now one of the ways the pond knows that Hockey and crew has crossed the line is when its barking mad right-wing doctor friend took to social media to bag the $7 co-payment as an ideological exercise.
It was one of the more salient points that Shorten managed to make in his speech, but which Mark Kenny makes in more detail:
Consider one of its biggest measures, the $7 co-payment for GP visits. Self-evidently, this was an initiative withheld from voters before the election for fear of causing an exodus of potential votes from the Coalition column.
Even now, the primary justification being offered is not as a fiscal repair measure, like so many other cuts, but as a behavioural tool to convince people not to go to the doctor so often. We know this because the funds raised are not being directed back to the bottom line but to a new medical research future fund. This behavioural modification will be achieved by the insertion of what economists call a price signal where previously there was none.
It all sounds very impressive until you think about it for a minute. Consider the logic. Australians will benefit from the biggest medical research endowment fund of its type in the world, which will turn its resources to the fight against diseases such as cancer and dementia.
To make all this happen, they will be discouraged via the price penalty, from “unnecessary” trips to the doctor. Health experts say this is precisely what not to do to improve public health where early detection is so often the key to avoiding longer-term illness and costly hospital stays.
They cite time-sensitive conditions like “chronic obstructive pulmonary disease” which costs the economy in the order of $200 million a year in treatment and lost productivity. Early detection and treatment of this and hundreds of other diseases – many of them fatal – can sometimes be measured in weeks. Or to put it another way, on whether you consult your GP this month or next.
Which is why Joe Hockey sounded so forlorn, crying in the wilderness.
Because one of his key policies isn't much of a policy at all, it's just an ideological flurry and a fury.
And conversely all it means, if Bill Shorten opposes it, is that a grand new quango to shovel funds down the collective throats of big pharma and others with a vested interest in medical research will be put on the back shelf.
If there's a fiscal crisis and a budget emergency, then that needs fixing. But how is that crisis helped or solved by slugging the poor to set up a medical future fund so that Liberal politicians have another cosy board to retreat to ...
Now the pond doesn't actually have any dog in the fight - it costs the pond $35 to head off to the GP right at this moment each and every time - that's life in the big city - but equally it's irritating to see Hockey carry on like a Methodist about beer drinking and ciggie smoking, especially after the fat fraud was caught puffing on a cigar...
When it comes to Hockey clogging up the health system with emphysema or other tobacco-related illnesses, the banded wonder won't have a financial care in the world. As for him being a likely clogger... how tempting it is to turn Methodist ...
And then there's the bizarre notion that this sort of price signal is pure and as unsullied as the driven snow, whereas a price signal on carbon is worse than the devil ...
So how did the Murdoch tabloids deal with all these ideological and financial worries? Should we care about the tree killers as they go about their fading business?
Well the Daily Terror rambled deep into bum sniffing rugby league land over sundry boofheads feuding and fornicating like rabbits, and the HUN led with a brave city rescue (and a side scare piece about it now costing $100 a pop to see a medical specialist) and the Courier Snail splashed "Whoa Kevin" at the top of the page, while doing it's very best to help out jolly Joe at the bottom of the page:
It was pitiful stuff, almost as pitiful as the parochial Adelaide Advertiser allocating four brief pars on the front page to Shorten, alongside a large pic of snarling, brawling boofhead footballers:
As for the NT News? Well the best the brightest minds in Rupert Murdoch's media empire could manage was "Urine a lot of trouble" ...
Nurse, a catheter please ...
As usual, it was left to the reptiles at the lizard Oz to take a firm stand:
It was backed up by this frothing and foaming editorial, so furious it was as comical as an Italian operetta:
Joe Hockey’s first budget has brought out the whiners and whingers, the grifters and grumblers, the loonies and looters. The culture of complaint is alive and well in our noisy democracy, with myriad platforms available to those who want to participate in an orgy of angst or add to a bonfire of miseries. That the supposedly serious end of the fourth estate is prepared to be barkers for a carnival of bellyaching where “everyone’s a loser” is invariably disappointing, but hardly surprising in a dumbed-down era of short attention spans and voluble expression. It is pretty puerile stuff and Bill Shorten’s budget-in-reply speech last night sits comfortably within this immature, facile political debate. But it does our nation great harm by misrepresenting the challenges on the horizon and misreading the demographic, economic and geopolitical backdrop of the Asian century. The onus is on Tony Abbott to show leadership and to put pressure on the nation’s political institutions to lift their game. (and so on and so forth, here).
It was bizarrely childish, like a bullying kid standing in the playground, stamping his foot and shouting you're all a bunch of kids (and should the pond take offence or legal action at the appropriation of loonies?)
As for calling the master of nattering negativity to leadership ... again the pond reverts to Mark Kelly:
Tony Abbott was once asked how he handled bigger, tougher opponents as an Oxford boxing blue. His explanation was along the lines of, “I punched them first.”
Of course he did.
Whether it was as a young monarchist, or in his subsequent parliamentary career, the high-impact option is Abbott’s modus operandi. It has served him well in some cases and seen him forced to backtrack on others.
Who can forget his original position on paid parental leave, for example? “Compulsory paid maternity leave? Over this government’s dead body, frankly,” he told a Liberal Party function back in 2002.
Over his dead body? If only ...
So it was a brave, some might say heroic effort by the reptile editorialist, but what fiscal fix was Shorten blocking?
Well if you trust Shorten and Kenny and ratbag right wing medical friends, Hockey wasn't blocking a fiscal fix. He was peddling an ideological policy designed to fail, and designed to piss the revenue raised against the wall on medical research.
Now the pond has nothing against medical research - it would be handy if the doctors came up with a cure for lung cancer in the near future, to help out cigar smokers, though it might be said, if you were a Methodist or an Australian editorialist, that cigar smokers deserved no help or pity because they brought it on themselves, and so should be made to stand in an inequitable line ...
But to be fair to the reptiles, they did publish a piece by John Dwyer, Harsh cuts won't help our health (behind the paywall because you have to pay for health care advice, and pay, and pay):
Dwyer travelled over the same Shorten/Kenny ground:
Despite rhetoric to the contrary, Medicare (“a visit to the doctor”) has never been free. The $19 billion made available for Medicare this year will be paid for with taxpayers’ dollars and, while the Medicare levy only partly funds the system, most of the additional dollars needed are provided by better-off Australians through our progressive tax system. This is a much fairer than slapping the same co-payment on all Australians who need to see their doctor.
We health professionals know that the $7 co-payment will act as a deterrent to many who should be seeking help, and this includes the working poor. To compound the unfairness, this co-payment will also apply to blood tests and imaging, while prescription medicines are to become more expensive (less affordable). We already pay more for medicines than people in many other OECD countries. The budget is trying to reduce the demand for Medicare services when we really should be encouraging more people to address health issues.
The government apparently fails to understand that inequity is very expensive.
Dwyer makes the foot stamping, squawking Australian editorialist, carrying on about welfarism, sound very silly and paranoid, but what else is to be expected from paranoids' castle?
Dwyer had plenty of other points to make:
With the exception of the deleterious effect of excessive alcohol consumption on health, all other major risk factors are more common in less economically advantaged Australians. The huge burden of chronic disease absorbs most of our health dollars.
On the subject of inequity, it should be noted that there was nothing of significance in the budget to address the factors that lead to rural Australians struggling with health outcomes inferior to those of their city cousins in almost all areas. Co-payments become irrelevant when there are no doctors available.
The budget rhetoric does make the ill-informed suggestion that states should charge people who attend hospital emergency departments with “GP problems”. Many rural Australians have no other source of care and, frequently, reasonable uncertainty about the seriousness of a problem makes hospital assessment a wise choice for all of us.
It is important to note that inadequate Medicare coverage of necessary services and poor co-ordination of healthcare already has Australians — at least those who can afford to — spending an additional $29bn each year from their pockets to round out their healthcare needs. Only Americans spend more. Those who can’t afford the additional expenditure suffer worse health outcomes...
Crucially, 600,000 or so of those expensive annual hospital admissions could be prevented if Medicare funded effective community interventions in the weeks before hospital admission becomes unavoidable. This is why so many have been emphasising to government the importance of global initiatives that demonstrate that Medicare should fund a system (not GPs’ bills) that features integrated primary care, wherein practices are staffed by a team of health professionals helping enrolled patients stay well, integrating their needs and providing community care for so many now sent to hospital.
This is the trend most countries are embracing, and it is very cost-effective. This is a far more important initiative than the announced but vague restructuring of so-called Medicare Locals.
Primary care in our country is at the crossroads, with only 13 per cent of young doctors interested in a career as a general practitioner. Fewer will be interested in becoming GPs after this budget. Integrated primary care, on the other hand, is an attractive and professionally satisfying model, as is the move to salaried or contractual arrangements with Medicare rather than the traditional fee-for-service model. This model could have been started with the billions of dollars that the budget should have saved by ending the private health insurance rebate. This expenditure did nothing to relieve pressures on public hospitals or encourage people to insure privately.
While cost effectiveness needs to be addressed, there is no fiscal crisis in health expenditure that would prevent us pursuing efficiencies that could save us billions and improve outcomes. At 9.2 per cent of gross domestic product, our health expenditure is affordable and restructuring would keep it sustainable. It’s time for a reform journey that would bring in better primary care and end the duplication associated with nine health departments for 23 million people (cost: about $4bn a year). The federal government should be the sole funder of the public health system (not the provider), with dollars available to providers who could generate a patient-focused, seamlessly integrated model of care.
So why did the pond give over so much space to the thoughts of John Dwyer?
Well they're very much the same as the pond's ratbag right wing doctor.
But even more to the point, it seems that the editorialist at The Australian doesn't actually read the opinion pieces that the paper publishes.
So if the people that work at the rag don't read their guest opinion makers, it seems there's an urgent need to spread the words on the full to overflowing intertubes ...
Why some people might click on the editorial and entirely miss what Dwyer has to say ...
And if you click on the editorial, you'll discover that all the inane, ranting editorialist offered was childish, abusive rhetoric, of the kind that used to serve when the empire marched off to war:
Australia is at a critical juncture. We have the chance to set ourselves up for prosperity. Asia is rising and we are tantalisingly close to the action for the first time in our history. Yet we are complacently locking in a Euro-style, high-cost superstructure, smug in our Aussie exceptionalism. If Mr Keating taught us anything it was that the world does not owe us a living. We must survive on our wits, resources, courage and skills. Mr Hockey started a discussion on opportunity and he must use this apt motif relentlessly, fleshing out its many meanings. The Prime Minister must take the lead in developing the story about why the nation must refresh its pursuit of productivity improvement, reorder its spending priorities, remain open to the world, thrive on competition at every level and celebrate virtues such as thrift, self-reliance and risk-taking. Three-word slogans can no longer suffice, but strong leadership will.
Indeed, indeed. Critical juncture, crisis, best foot forward, let's build a medical research facility that's the envy of the world (but make sure they send their research by carrier pigeon, wouldn't want them sending medical imaging over the sluggish intertubes).
So what's the exact and precise point of slugging the poor $7 for a visit to the doctor, and forcing them to stump up each time they attempt to participate in the health system, and then not using the revenue derived from this carbon price signal - sorry, stand-over tactics - to actually fix the alleged budget emergency?
It took awhile for the pond to twig to what it was actually all about, and as usual, it was science fiction that produced the insight:
Elysium! You don't want poor people cluttering up and weighing down the system, not when there might be well-off cigar smokers requiring urgent attention ...
Which is why jolly Joe Hockey and Tony Abbott has got a problem and it doesn't matter if the tabloids attempt to wipe Bill Shorten from the map ...
Their prime health plank doesn't make any sense, and they're attempting to shake down their state colleagues so they can go on the lam, and it isn't just cartoonists they're alienating, they're alienating the entire health sector with their nakedly ideological silliness ...
Though it has to be said that looking at a Pope cartoon is like picking up a pack of jelly beans along with the prescription, and if you buy a small health-conscious pack, cheaper than buying The Australian ...
(Below: more David Pope here)