In 2021, after more than a year of a global Covid 19 pandemic, there are few people in Australia who don’t understand how important health policy is. Australia has avoided the horrible human tragedy that we’ve seen in so many countries around the world, thanks largely to the healthcare system Labor built over many decades. Australians understand more than ever that a healthy society is absolutely central to a just society, a strong economy, and a prosperous future.
Of course, Labor and in particular the Left has always understood this. We’ve understood this intellectually, but more importantly we’ve felt this in our bones since our creation, because it’s the marginalised workers and struggling families that know what it means to not have access to good healthcare. They know one untreated sickness can mean the difference between having a roof over your head, food on the table and a comfortable life and not having anything at all. That is why we created Medicare, its why we created the NDIS, and it is why Australians have historically trusted Labor to build a healthier country.
Building a healthier country is a job that is never finished. New medicines and other innovations offer better treatments for all manner of ailments, but ensuring universal access to ever improving care remains an enormous challenge. Like so many other working Australians, our healthcare workforce is all too often overstressed and undervalued, especially at a time like this. The impacts of climate change on health will only grow over time, putting more stress on a healthcare system that already feels stressed. Disparities between the cities and the regions remain an enormous challenge in a country as large as ours, while disparities between the health outcomes of Indigenous and Torres Strait Islander people and the rest of Australia remain a national disgrace. And the imperative of fixing an aged care system that is in crisis, and that will soon see the added stress of the Baby Boomer generation entering it is a massive national challenge, and an urgent one.
Does anyone believe that the Liberal party is up to addressing these challenges? That a party that opposed the creation of Medicare, and has since undermined it at every turn, will safeguard and expand Medicare? That a party that refuses to take responsible action on climate change will address the health impacts from climate change? That a party that opposes an Indigenous Voice to Parliament will address Indigenous health disadvantage? That the party that cut $1.7 billion in aged care funding will fix the aged care crisis and put a broken system on a path to care for older Australians including the baby boomers with the dignity, respect, and attention they deserve? I don’t believe it and I don’t think Australians do either.
I believe Australians know that only the Labor party can deliver a more universal, a more sustainable, and a more effective healthcare system. We will continue our great Labor legacy of building public and universal healthcare up, not tearing it down. We’ll ensure fair and equal access and respect for all Australians, regardless of race, sexual orientation, religion, or location. We’ll make sure the health workforce is better valued, supported, and listened to. We’ll make sure our healthcare system is ready to tackle modern challenges like climate change, rare and chronic diseases, and an ageing population. We’ll build our health industry capacity, from building a stronger clinical trial industry, to creating new vaccine and drug manufacturing industries, and reaping the rewards of the digital data revolution.
When Australians look at Anthony Albanese, they see a man who knows through personal experience the importance of a world class universal healthcare system, and they can trust him to maintain and build on that great Labor legacy.
Mark Butler is the Shadow Minister for Health and Ageing