Beware Victorian politicians pledging to cure the health system

A rash of major health announcements is sure to spread further before the state election – but the devil is in the detail

It’s no coincidence that Victoria’s premier, Daniel Andrews, has been standing alongside his health minister Mary-Anne Thomas at 12 of the 13 press conferences he’s held in the past six weeks. Andrews wants health to be – quite literally – front and centre as the state heads to the polls in November.

This is not unusual for the Labor party heading to an election, but unlike previous campaigns, the Victorian Coalition is also pledging to spend billions on the health system, which their leader, Matthew Guy, has described as “sick” prior to the pandemic.

“It’s about the healthcare system, stupid,” he told a Liberal party event last week, echoing Bill Clinton’s 1992 campaign strategy about the economy.

In recent months in parliament, Guy has routinely detailed triple-zero delays, ambulance ramping, overcrowding in emergency departments and lengthy elective surgery waitlists – blaming it all on “mismanagement and neglect” by Andrews, who has been premier or health minister for 12 of the past 16 years.

Andrews has instead blamed the pandemic for the system’s woes. Indeed, Victoria is not the only state battling these problems.

But while both parties are making a lot of noise spruiking their relative cures for the health system’s ailments, not everyone is convinced by the details that trail in the wake of each press conference.

On Sunday, standing beside health minister Mary-Anne Thomas, Andrews announced the locations of five new “GP-led, priority primary-care centres” to alleviate the stress on emergency department.

These centres, Andrews said, would operate seven days a week, 16 hours a day, handling conditions such as mild infections, fractures and burns.

But further inspection reveals that the clinics are not new. Rather, they are existing GP clinics that have signed up to be remodelled into primary-care centres.

Rural Doctors Association of Victoria president Rob Phair said with the exception of one centre in Ballarat, all are located in Melbourne. All but one is in safe Labor territory.

“It’s not five new centres; it’s existing practices. The press release bears no resemblance to what’s actually happening and it remains a mystery how they’ll staff them,” he told Guardian Australia.

“It does nothing for those in regional and rural Victoria, for the 15,000 people in Mildura who have lost their GP clinic, who are left without any primary care at all.”

On Tuesday, Andrews and Thomas were at the Austin hospital announcing $105m for new equipment, including CT scanners, MRIs and X-ray units.

Two days later, at the Royal Children’s hospital, they spruiked previously announced GP respiratory clinics designed specifically for children (two of them are about to open). A baby named Angus stole the show – although thankfully no politicians attempted to kiss him.

Less than an hour later, Victorian Opposition leader Guy held a press conference in the exact spot and vowed to build a new $900m children’s hospital in Melbourne’s rapidly expanding west.

The proposed 275-bed facility in Werribee would include an emergency department and be run by the Royal Children’s hospital. It was undeniably the more exciting announcement of the day – baby Angus aside – scoring a splash on the front page of the Herald Sun (the party’s fourth in nine days).

What remains to be seen is how the Coalition will find the health workers required to staff the site. It’s also unclear how building the hospital and others will address the immediate concerns Guy has raised in parliament.

Funding, too, is vague. The hospital is one of several recent election pledges the Coalition says will be funded by shelving the first stage of the government’s Suburban Rail Loop project. Others pledges include: $750m for a new hospital in the marginal seat of Mildura; a new hospital in Albury Wodonga, where the incumbent Liberal MP Bill Tilley faces a challenge from an independent; hospital upgrades in Caulfield, Sandringham and Rosebud, all in marginal seats; $400m for a new infectious diseases response centre; and free public transport for healthcare workers.

To Phair, the announcements by both parties are missing the point. The problems in the health system, he says, require structural change at a state and federal level, and coordination between the two tiers of government, that could take decades to complete.

“It’s not a game. There’s no quick and easy solution before the election that they’re going to be able to come up with,” he said.

But it won’t stop them trying.


Benita Kolovos

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Victorian Greens to preference Labor above Liberals as major parties make health pledges
Samantha Ratnam rules out deal with the Liberals, will direct preferences to ‘progressive’ candidates

Benita Kolovos and Adeshola Ore

09, Nov, 2022 @6:02 AM

Article image
Perrottet and Andrews announce joint plan to overhaul Albury Base hospital
NSW premier says $550m project to boost health in border region is a ‘great example of co-operation across political lines’

Tamsin Rose and Benita Kolovos

27, Oct, 2022 @1:14 AM

Article image
NSW’s Matt Kean comes to town spruiking the Victorian Liberals’ ‘progressive’ credentials
The New South Wales treasurer and energy minister insists the Liberal party in Victoria can appeal to teal voters

Benita Kolovos

27, Oct, 2022 @3:00 PM

Article image
Police clear Victorian MP who told protesters that Daniel Andrews should become ‘red mist’
Upper house MP Catherine Cumming did not commit offence during speech about state’s premier

Benita Kolovos

22, Nov, 2022 @5:34 AM

Article image
Victorian Liberal party left shellshocked after another heavy election defeat
Opposition leader Matthew Guy concedes the Coalition has ‘a lot of work to do’ after losing six of past seven elections

Adeshola Ore

26, Nov, 2022 @1:09 PM

Article image
‘Barbaric’ practices still used in Victorian prisons, human rights advocates say
Andrews government urged to establish independent watchdog to comply with anti-torture obligations ratified by Australia in 2017

Adeshola Ore

10, Oct, 2022 @4:30 PM

Article image
Returning Victorian premier Daniel Andrews says ugly political campaigning must end
Premier puts Labor’s electoral success down to listening to the community rather than partisan commentary

Adeshola Ore and Benita Kolovos

27, Nov, 2022 @3:20 AM

Article image
Victorian opposition makes $160m bus overhaul election promise as Labor flags more dog parks
Matthew Guy seeks to woo outer-metropolitan voters while Daniel Andrews campaigns in inner suburbs on day three of the Victoria election

Benita Kolovos and Adeshola Ore

04, Nov, 2022 @4:14 AM

Article image
Victorian ‘Greenslide’ fails to eventuate but progressives on track for upper house balance of power
Greens’ high hopes evaporate as prepoll vote comes in; leader Samantha Ratnam turns attention to Legislative Council

Adeshola Ore

27, Nov, 2022 @5:33 AM

Article image
Daniel Andrews joins kindergarteners on eve of Victorian election, but Matthew Guy is all business
Premier spends last full day of the campaign in Northcote, where the Greens are making headway

Adeshola Ore

25, Nov, 2022 @6:50 AM