Wren's Week: Out with Medicare and in with nuclear power

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NIB boss Mark Fitzgibbon has called for the Government to abolish Medicare (Screenshots via YouTube - edited)

A call has been made to scrap Medicare while the LNP wants to usher in the age of nuclear energy, writes John Wren.

Wren’s Week


I WAS IN a work frenzy in Canberra last week and so I apologise to all for not writing a column then.

This week started with NIB CEO Mark Fitzgibbon calling for the scrapping of Medicare and making private health insurance compulsory. Of course, the Liberals have been accusing Labor of running a scare campaign on the scrapping of Medicare since 2013. They refer to it as “Mediscare” and have repeatedly denied they intend to scrap it. They can’t be believed, of course. Since its inception, the Liberals have fought it. Even scrapping it briefly in its infancy before Bob Hawke resurrected it. The Liberal Party’s tame think tank, the IPA, also lists it in their 75 demands.

The bottom line is if a health fund cannot make money despite the massive amounts of Government subsidies they receive, they are clearly not very competent at their business. But this also begs the question, should healthcare be “for profit”? If healthcare is a human right – and I believe it is – then should corporations be entitled to make money from it?

I hold private health insurance, but I chose a not-for-profit provider as all “surplus” is re-invested back into benefits for members. If your fund is a commercial fund, then a certain portion of the profits is funnelled back to shareholders in the form of dividends. Last year, Fitzgibbon’s NIB paid a 2.59% fully-franked dividend yield to investors. Perhaps if Fitzgibbon’s fund had not paid a dividend it could plough more money back into members’ benefits.

So NIB is not only competing against Medicare, but it’s also at a disadvantage to NFP funds such as HCF. The end result of this is if you are choosing a health fund, choose a not-for-profit. You’ll get better value for money. And anyway, why would anybody patronise a company that advocates getting rid of Medicare, an institution that the vast majority of Australians are very proud of?

While Fitzgibbon’s brain-fart was being discussed in the media, those taking out private health insurance coverage have continued to fall. Why is this? Fundamentally, it’s the fault of the Liberals’ policy to suppress wage growth and their ongoing war on young people. For health insurance to really work well it needs large numbers of fit young people taking out policies. Because they are young and healthy, they will make far fewer claims than more mature fund members. They effectively subsidise the less healthy older cohort.

Young people are really struggling to find full-time employment with decent wages. Young graduates are lumbered with significant HECS and HELP debts. Many are underemployed because of the emerging “gig economy”. Many simply cannot afford health insurance or prefer to spend their money elsewhere. My 22-year-old son had to make the decision to move off the family policy this year. Despite having full-time professional employment, he chose not to take out coverage with anyone in the end and will rely wholly on Medicare until he turns 30 at least. He is typical of the problem. He simply could not see the value.

Meanwhile, the Government introduced its legislation into the lower house to repeal the Medevac Bill, that allows desperately ill detainees from Manus and Nauru to be airlifted to Australia for treatment. The Bill passed the lower house with Labor, the Greens and a number of crossbench MPs voting against it.

What does it say about a Government that has taken a deliberate vote to restrict medical treatment to people whom they have a U.N.-mandated duty-of-care? Contrary to Dutton’s claims last year, the asylum seeker boats have not re-started since the Medevac Bill was enacted. The re-opening of the Christmas Island Detention Centre stunt came and went at great expense to taxpayers. All for nothing. It’s a measure of how cruel the Government has become that they would enact something like this.

We also learned that they allowed a two-year-old detainee’s teeth to rot in her mouth to such an extent they needed to be surgically removed. What sort of monsters do this? The monsters that Australia re-elected in May, that’s who. I find it incomprehensible that a once generous, compassionate Australian people have turned like this. How does this happen? Evil happens when good people do nothing. We learned this when ordinary Germans failed to stop the horrors their Government was committing in WW2.

And if you don’t think that the Government’s repeal of Medevac and its unstated policy to scrap Medicare are unrelated — think again.

The late UK Labour politician Tony Benn (a hard-Left Peer of the realm, believe it or not) had many memorable quotes

He once famously stated:

“The way a government treats refugees is very instructive because it shows how they would treat the rest of us if they thought they could get away with it.”

If the Liberals are comfortable treating refugees as they have been, they will certainly be capable of treating the rest of the same way. Hence their desire to scrap Medicare.

In the last week or so, too, there has been an upswing in calls for nuclear power in Australia. Interestingly, the calls are being made by all the old die-hard coal freaks in the Liberal and National Parties. Barnaby Joyce was prominent, with a harebrained scheme to offer free electricity to people whose homes are within sight of the plant.

Nuclear power has also been discussed amongst all the “loony fringe” on Sky News (after dark). The Energy Minister Angus “Watergate” Taylor was put under extreme pressure during Question Time by the Labor Party. He was visibly flustered. Taylor is not a strong performer at the Despatch Box. It culminated with him “not ruling out” nuclear power.

What is interesting about the sudden interest in nuclear power from the coalists is that it is actually a ploy to burn more coal. In the incredibly unlikely scenario that a nuclear power plant is built in Australia, it will take at least ten years to be functional. From a climate change perspective, that’s far too long anyway, as it’s another ten years of coal consumption.

While we argue and debate the pros and cons of nuclear power, we are also continuing to burn coal. It’s a ruse and Australians should not be sucked in by it. Nuclear power is not the answer to Australia’s emissions now. It may have been 20 years ago when it was first mooted, but that time is long gone.

You can sign the petition to have John Wren reinstated on Twitter here.

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