Joe Hockey’s medical research fund is nothing more than a distraction

10 June 2015

Health is a basic requirement for an individual to lead a good life. Without health you have nothing; when we are sick, it’s difficult to work, to care for others, to participate in the things we enjoy. We seek treatment so we can get back to our normal lives. Because health is so important to our wellbeing, there is widespread agreement— including among ethicists —that a fair and accessible healthcare system is something that we should pursue. And although the Australian healthcare system is far from perfect, it has provided universal access to healthcare for almost 40 years. A universal healthcare system – one that is open to everyone, whether or not they can afford to pay – is a basic feature of a good and just society. Tony Abbott and Joe Hockey want us to panic about a "budget emergency", including the idea that our current health system is unsustainable. Rising healthcare costs pose a challenge to governments everywhere. But this is not a new problem, and will not bring about economic or social catastrophe any time soon. This amplified threat is being used to justify measures that are now well known: introducing co-payments for GP fees; disestablishing Medicare Locals; transferring health agencies to the department of health with reduced funding; and stripping $80bn in funding from the states, particularly in health and education. This will not only force the states to increase their own goods and services taxes, but reduce the public services they can afford to provide. It will end universal access to health care, make Medicare a mere "safety net", overwhelm hospitals, and increase the inequities that are increasingly a feature of Australian society.