Notwithstanding investigations under way into stood-aside Health minister Sussan Ley’s touching fondness for the Gold Coast, it now appears she has crossed the line on survivability.
Yesterday’s revelation by Fairfax reporters that Ley spent more than $13,000 of our money to self-pilot charter planes on mainline air routes, instead of taking far cheaper commercial flights, is utterly unjustifiable. It crosses the line of credibility.
As the evidence of Ley’s travel splurging mounts, and the questions around it multiply, she shouldn’t wait for the secretary of the Prime Minister’s department to report: she should accept the inevitable and resign.
But if she does, it’s a blessing in disguise for the Turnbull government. Ley was the Minister for Mediscare. Having achieved what she was put there for in early 2015, kill off the 2014 budget’s GP co-payment, rebuild burnt bridges with the AMA and take health off the front pages – all of which she did to some degree – Ley hit the ground reviewing but did little else. As a result, the Coalition has had no coherent health policy agenda for two years.
The blatant lies of Bill Shorten’s Mediscare worked for Labor because there was a policy vacuum on the Government’s side: the Coalition had no credible counter because it had no coherent health policy narrative of its own.
With the Prime Minister, Ley must take responsibility for her outstanding contribution to the Coalition’s near-loss, and for the fact that since the election the Government has shown little indication it’s heard the electorate’s message.
In her time as health minister, Ley administered but did not lead. Unlike her unfairly-maligned predecessor Peter Dutton, she did not push hard enough against powerful vested interests like the AMA or the Pharmacy Guild to achieve better deals for Australian taxpayers. Under Ley, those vested interests have defined the healthcare agenda, not the minister.
Ley’s much-hyped reforms of private health insurance amount to little more than a fluffy colour chart of policies based on their restrictions and exclusions, while leaving untouched the doctors, hospitals and other price-gouging providers whose avarice drives exclusions and spiraling premiums. And her important expert review of the Medicare schedule has been strung out to give the appearance of doing something, while not confronting the AMA and other Medicare rent-seekers with actual decisions.
Ley and her office were seen by the healthcare sector and industry analysts as insular and out of touch. Especially after the success of Mediscare, respect for them already was low, and if she does somehow survive this, it will evaporate.
When you’re asking tough and powerful buggers like the AMA and the Pharmacy Guild to tighten their belts while yours has fallen round your knees, you have no credibility. Ley must know it, and Malcolm Turnbull likewise.
Sussan Ley is a dud. She was over-promoted by Tony Abbott and did nothing for Turnbull except vote for him in September 2015. She has been a major political liability for the Government, a passenger rather than a contributor.
She didn’t deserve reappointment as health minister after the election, and her travel trouble means that can now be rectified: there are talented policy thinkers and competent administrators who can take her place in the Health portfolio and Cabinet, and do a far better job than her in cauterising the self-inflicted wounds of Mediscare.
Sussan Ley was a bad minister who did a crapulous job. She will not be missed.
Terry Barnes is a former senior adviser to Howard government health ministers. This op-ed first appeared in The Spectator.