Howard lines up the big one

Saving Medicare

Julia Gillard.

Medicare was born in 1984, a health system built by Labor and designed to give every Australian access to affordable health care. Throughout the 1980s, as Medicare gained strength and became the foundation for an equitable health system, John Howard was Medicare's greatest enemy. Again and again, he declared his opposition to Medicare. When he was leader of the opposition in the 1980s, he said that Medicare was a "miserable, cruel fraud", a "scandal", a "total and complete failure", a "quagmire", a "total disaster", a "financial monster" and a "human nightmare".

He subsequently threatened to "pull Medicare right apart" and to "get rid of the bulk-billing system". And he said bulk billing was an "absolute rort". John Howard's 1987 election commitment stated: "Bulk billing will not be permitted for anyone except the pensioners and the disadvantaged. Doctors will be free to charge whatever fees they choose.'

But John Howard could never win an election while threatening to dismantle Medicare and kill off bulk billing. So something happened between 1987 and 1995. In 1995, John Howard told Australians: "We absolutely guarantee the retention of Medicare. We guarantee the retention of bulk billing." Well, it's no longer 1984, or 1995, but 2003. John Howard is now the prime minister. And now that the government has ordered the words "bulk billing" to be deleted from the government's vocabulary, John Howard's absolute guarantee to retain bulk billing is worth nothing.

"Labor will stand and defend Medicare and bulk billing."

The Liberal Party's policies are full of glaring contradictions that the Australian people are expected to accept and believe. When the prime minister was elected in 1996, his slogan was 'For all of us'. We now know the truth is that, under John Howard, Medicare is for just some of us. The government's so-called 'Fairer Medicare' package is John Howard