Rudd’s anti-politics national tour

Tuesday, 2 October 2007 

Anyone thinking the government will be able to make up ground during the campaign will not be encouraged by how it is handling the hospital issue.

It shows everything that is wrong with its political tactics and there is no reason why that will change once the campaign starts. It started badly with its move to stop the closure of the Mersey Hospital’s intensive care unit in August. For a government struggling to have a credible national agenda, stepping off the national stage to fight with the states over a local hospital funding issue was a disastrous move. Worse, it had picked a fight on no principle other than whether an intensive care unit should be kept open twenty minutes drive from another. It left it open for one of Rudd’s best moments this year as he took control with a national plan to end the political squabbling.

The hospital issue is ideal for Rudd’s anti-politics strategy. First because there is no point of real difference between the two parties. The $2bn in Rudd’s national plan amounts to no significant difference in funding priorities, so any attempt to make a political row between Labor and Liberal will have little content. On top of that, pointless political scoring is especially inappropriate for something that is a matter of life and death. Rudd’s national hospital tour consolidates his position as he listens to the problems that he can easily admit to being at both state and federal level, with a promise to get them to work together. The subtle anti-politics agenda of the tour is supplemented by a much less subtle one that the money spent every day on the government’s political advertising could be spent on hospital beds etc.

The government still doesn’t know how to respond to this type of tactic. Its plan to hand over hospital control to local boards at least looks more like a national policy than bailing out a Tasmanian hospital, although it is hard to see how a local approach that may make sense for parents of a school will reassure patients that need a hospital fitted with specialist staff and equipment.

But then this is not really about how to run a hospital. With no change in spending there is no reason why Rudd will be any better at running a hospital than the state premiers. This is more about how state and federal politicians relate to each other now that political differences between the parties on issues like this have become negligible. Just how far behind the government is on this change in political conduct was best summed up by Abbott’s idiotic attempt to blame a woman’s miscarriage in Royal North Shore on Labor, which went down like a lead balloon. It showed that despite wide expectations of a nasty campaign, in this anti-politics environment, it will be a lot harder than commentators think.

Posted by The Piping Shrike on Tuesday, 2 October 2007.

Filed under Tactics

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