• Hannah Phillips

The Week in Politics


This week in Australian politics was a life and death matter.


North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un warned that it would be a “suicidal” act for Australia to backup America and South Korean military forces in the event of an attack on North Korea.

On Monday Malcolm Turnbull called on countries to double down on their efforts to bring North Korea into line. He told the ABC that North Korea had no regard for its own population or international law. The Australian public was largely unmoved by this threat to their wellbeing, showing more interest in issues like same sex marriage and dual citizenship.

The Prime Minister took to the bush around the south east of NSW, turning up in Tumut with billionaire businessman Anthony Pratt to announce the creation of 5,000 manufacturing jobs and the introduction of some new clean energy generators powered by paper waste.

On Thursday he turned up in Ettamogah with Sussan Ley. In between eating scones and drinking beer in the bush he did a considerable amount of talk back radio. It’s clear that he’s learned from Bill Shorten that it’s important to get out on the road and shake hands. Bill Shorten spent a good part of the week campaigning for a ‘yes’ vote in the postal survey on same sex marriage.

A proposal that drew some attention was Christian Porters’ policy to drug test people on unemployment benefits. A pilot scheme was launched in Canterbury-Bankstown and was strongly supported by the local community who are concerned by a local ice epidemic. There was robust opposition to the drug testing policy from the AMA and various drug treatment experts. The council for drug and alcohol services was strongly in favour of the pilot saying that it will provide valuable information.

John McDonnell

Michael Gannon Attacks Private Health Insurers

The President of the Australian Medical Association, Michael Gannon, appeared at the National Press Club on Wednesday where he mounted a defence of the work of the AMA as a public interest lobby group.

He said that the organisation’s credibility was the reason that governments listened to it.

However he said there is a need for substantial reform in the area of private health insurance. There are more than 20,000 different private health policies currently being marketed to the public. These need to be simplified so that consumers can identify the services provided under the policy. The insurers also need to get rid of junk policies. On the other hand he said the AMA was opposed to the publication of doctors’ fees and success rates. However ethical medical treatment implied informed financial consent. He said that if quality data was published then high risk patients would not be treated.

Dr Gannon said that one of the problems of the private insurance system was the fact that state governments were using private insurance as a source of funding for public hospitals. He said that, while private patients shouldn’t be excluded from accessing public hospitals, they equally shouldn’t be using beds that should be available for public patients just because they were a source of cash. On same sex marriage he said that there was a chance that the postal survey could lead to mental health problems but this shouldn’t preclude the people having their say.

In response to a question about whether the fact that access to codeine required a doctor’s prescription was simply a policy of make-work for doctors, he said that the AMA supported the Therapeutic Goods Administration’s evidence based policy that codeine should be available only on prescription because of its side effects. On euthanasia he said that inadequate legislation was interfering with doctors’ ability to treat patients. He said that there were problems with the Victorian legislation because it left doctors vulnerable. He added that palliative care was extremely good and very few patients demand euthanasia but that a distinction had to be drawn between measures to reduce pain which could also result in death and actions taken simply to cause death.

On refugee health care he said that the AMA worked with the Chief Medical Officer of the Department of Immigration and doctors involved were free to comment on these matters so the fact that there have not been comments from the doctors involved shows that the medical care on Nauru and Manus Island is the equal of medical care in Australia.

John McDonnell and Michael Keating

From The Gallery

• Tony Windsor goes to Court: The High Court yesterday granted leave for the former Member for New England to make submissions, as an interested party, to its hearings into the Barnaby Joyce citizenship matter. The Court was told that his lawyers would ask “what steps he did or did not take to ascertain whether he was a citizen of a foreign power.” Almost immediately Mr Windsor claimed that he’d had insufficient time to prepare for his appearance although it has to be said that, on the face of it, it wouldn’t seem to take ages to prepare to ask that question. It would of course be churlish to suggest that Mr Windsor’s delaying tactic was calculated to inflict the maximum possible political pain on Mr Joyce who wrested the seat from his predecessor in a bitterly fought election campaign last July.

• You show us yours: The opposition is sticking to its guns in its refusal to accommodate Coalition calls for Labor Members and Senators to show documentary proof of their citizenship status. In a doorstop on Tuesday, Deputy Leader Tanya Plibersek called the government’s demands “a bridge too far” despite her own Party calling for Liberal MP Ann Sudmalis to present her paperwork to the House. “Why should we? We live in a free country, where we have a presumption of innocence, where we don’t have a reverse onus of proof,” she said. Ms Plibersk’s remarks came the day after Opposition Leader Bill Shorten labelled allegations that he was a dual British citizen as “conspiracy theories.”

• What is it with One Nation? In the wake of Pauline Hanson’s performance in the Senate last Friday, Malcolm Roberts was passionate, if slightly confusing, in her defence during an appearance on the ABC’s ‘Lateline’ programme. “It’s the Islamic ideology that’s the problem and what the burqa does to women. We have a woman with courage standing up for women,” he said before going on to claim that the burqa was an affront to homosexuals. A clearly bemused Emma Albericci asked him what he based this assertion on, to which he replied: “The Islamic people throw homosexuals off the roofs of buildings ... It has come to be a deeply concerning symbol of Islam and its terrorist extremes ... Cory Bernardi actually admitted he was startled when he could see this black robe right next to him [in Parliament]. He was very startled and he’s a big strong man.” There goes the conservative alliance.

• Foxtel freebie – a perk for pollies: Politicians on all sides of the aisle have been caught red- handed in their failure to disclose that they get a free subscription to Foxtel or Austar worth up to $1600 a year. Industry Minister Senator Arthur Sinidinos, who amended his register of interests three days before being contacted by the media, joins Labor MPs Anthony Albanese and Tim Watts, crossbench Senators Derryn Hinch and David Leyonhjelm together with Greens MP Adam Bandt, among those who’ve been plugging into the pay TV services, offered by ASTRA, the pay TV lobby group, to all federal politicians for use in their electoral offices. Happily Communications Minister Mitch Fifield paid for his own subscription to avoid conflict of interest.

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