Tuesday, November 13, 2007/
Defined four-year election terms would save the policies-on-the-run we’ve seen in this marathon campaign.
A cure for election fatigue
Is there anyone in the business community who isn’t sick to death of this federal election campaign? I suspect not – and it’s not because it’s been going for more than four weeks.
No, the real reason this campaign has become a turn off (notice how lowly it rates in radio news bulletins) is because it has actually been going for much longer than the four weeks since the PM called the election – more like a year.
That’s right, a year. From the moment Kevin Rudd became Opposition Leader and locked in Labor’s lead in the polls, the Howard Government has been on an electoral footing.
It means that, even more than usual, every decision is made through the prism of an election. And that typically means bad policy – and big spending.
There have been many examples; a standout was the $10 billion Murray Darling water scheme, which was devised on the back of an envelope and had Treasury secretary Ken Henry tearing his hair out. On a smaller (financial) scale, the Mersey Hospital in Tasmania’s north-west is a corker.
Rationalising hospitals is never easy for any state government, and the Tasmanian Labor Government struggled long and hard before biting the bullet and deciding to downgrade this hospital.
Having two hospitals of that size and medical service offering – the other is about 40 kilometres up the road at Burnie – is simply bad policy when the journey by ambulance from Devonport to Burnie would be quicker than getting across about three Melbourne or Sydney suburbs.
But that logic was never going to appeal to the citizens of Devonport: they wanted the Mersey’s medical status upheld at any price. So it was a tough political decision – the type of decision we like to get from governments but seldom do.
The Tasmanian Government made one mistake – the Mersey falls in the marginal federal seat of Braddon that the Liberal Party holds with a slim margin of 1.1%. So the Howard Government announced a $45 million takeover of the hospital.
Like all policy decided on the run and motivated by crass political motives, it is proving difficult to implement. Inevitably, difficulties arise, and the politics of such blatant pork-barreling might still backfire on the Howard Government.
To my mind, this pork-barreling, especially at a time when both political parties know the economy demands tighter fiscal policy and, as such, it means that many of these election promises will quickly become non-core – highlights an enormous flaw in our electoral system: the three-year federal term and the power of the prime minister to decide the election date.
What this country desperately needs in federal politics is a four-year election cycle with the poll to be held on a set date. Quite clearly, provision would be made for exceptional circumstances, such as the government losing control of the lower house, but how often has that happened in recent times? If my memory is correct, not since 1941.
It’s a disgrace – and, I suspect, Labor in power would be no different – that this country has been on electoral footing for a year. It means a year of bad decisions, such as the Mersey hospital, the Murray-Darling, and pandering to minority interests and ignoring the national matters.
Whichever party wins government, business should make set election terms a key demand. It’s not only in their interests but also of the broader community. What voters have had to endure for the past year should never be allowed to happen again.
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John Douglas writes: “Having two hospitals of that size and medical service offering – the other is about 40 kilometers up the road” With a comment like that it’s easy to see you looked this up on a map and are not from North West Tasmania. The reality is that the area you speak of is much larger than that; for many in this area the journey will be more like 80km to 100km from the outskirts. Granted this isn’t a massive distance but on country roads the journey will take some a considerable time. Remembering that the Ambulance would then need to travel both directions, Help could be hours away. And that’s not good enough!
However there is a solution, But the government hasn’t been brave enough. All funding should be directed to constructing a new Hospital that is central (Ulverstone) on the northwest coast. All doctors and facilities (Mersey and Burnie) under the one roof, this plan has support from doctors and the community. Just not the pockets of politicians!
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