Nov 022006

Probably. Most privatisation of publically held instrumentalities under the current federal government have had elements of obscene haste about them – the Telstra debate stands out – sufficient to draw the tags of ‘unethical’ and ‘immoral’.

Sitting in my office today, working steadily away, I had NewsRadio on alongside me with the Medicare Private 2006 privatisation debate being broadcast from the House. Thus far, since the beginning of the broadcast, only Opposition members have spoken on the bill. No government members are listed to speak. A short while ago, Tony Abbott moved a motion to have the bill considered an urgent bill, which was successfully passed. This means the Opposition speakers will be gagged if they have not spoken by 1:30pm today. A very strange move from a government which has openly declared this bill to not be urgent, given that if passed, Medibank Private will not be sold until AFTER the next election in 2007. Why gag debate? Smacks of arrogance in the use of numbers in the House, in my view.

Clearly, the government has little or no interest in engaging in the debate, having already decided that it can and will do as it pleases due to numbers in both houses, despite public opinion being against the sell off of a valuable public utility. In fact, an institution which has a lot of value courtesy of its members under it’s mutualisation status. Equally clear is the determination of the government to ignore the considered opinion of its own Parliamentary resource, in the Parliamentary Research Library. That source has decreed that selling Medibank Private poses no logical benefit to the electorate and places the Government in a position of legal liability from current Medibank Private members. Because that opinion doesn’t suit the Government’s ideological push to sell anything and everything which isn’t nailed down, it turned to private legal opinion from the firm Blake Dawson Waldron, who – surprise! surprise! – gave the Government the opinion they wanted.That it’s fine and dandy to sell the utility, pocket the proceeds and not be concerned about compensating the members at all.

Two billion dollars is estimated to be the eventual sale proceeds. One wonders why debate is being rushed. One wonders why no Government members are bothering to engage in the debate. One wonders if this Government really is prepared to wait until 2008 to sell off this utility. Several speakers today have supposed that the sale will indeed occur prior to the 2007 election, thereby salting the Government’s election war-chest considerably.

There is no rationale for the proposed sale. Privatisation of Medibank Private will not enhance competition. Will not provide downward pressure on premiums, in fact that Government claim is a simple furphy. Taking a utility from a not-for-profit status to a profit status has to place additional, currently non-existent additional pressures on premium rates. That is simple capitalistic common-sense. If you own a business, you want it to make a profit. Otherwise there’s no point in owning it in a private industry marketplace.

This proposed privatisation of Medibank Private is pure and simple ideology. The Governments ideology. Sell public assets so that the Government can’t be held responsible for the conduct and management of those assets. No matter that costs increase and services fall away. Only that the ‘all-care-no-responsibility’ ethos be maintained. As a Medibank Private member, I’m appalled.

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