Campaign goes back to the future with Mediscare and border security

Liberal senator Anne Ruston has been forced to defend old comments she made about Medicare not being sustainable – even when Australia was on track for a balanced budget – as Labor claimed her nomination as the Liberals’ next health minister would spell the end of universal healthcare.

During debate on the GP co-payment floated in the heavy-cutting 2014 budget under Tony Abbott, Ruston said Medicare in its current form was not sustainable and “unfortunately, the credit card is maxed out”.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison and his chosen incoming health minister Anne Ruston, left, have been forced to defend her previous comments on Medicare.Credit:James Brickwood

Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese seized on this to question the future of Medicare under the Coalition – a scare campaign tactic that worked well for Labor in 2016.

“Anne Ruston has made it very clear that she wants to take the universal out of universal health care,” he said from Cairns.

“People are already seeing escalating costs of healthcare … and the appointment of Anne Ruston sends a very bad message that this government, if it is re-elected, will make further cuts to Medicare.”

Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the comments by Ruston were “made years ago” and related to government policy at the time.

“It is not our policy, it won’t be our policy, there will be no co-payment,” he said.

Ruston was asked several times to explicitly rule out cuts to Medicare if she becomes health minister.

“Our government has been absolutely clear that we are not cutting Medicare. In fact, I think our track record in terms of the increased spending across all elements of our healthcare system stands for itself,” she said.

In Cairns, Albanese was forced to clarify Labor’s policies on border protection for the second time in a week after he mistakenly said his party supports temporary protection visas for asylum seekers.

Asked whether Labor supported Operation Sovereign Borders and temporary protection visas. Albanese replied: “Yes.”

Labor has for years supported two of the three pillars of the Coalition’s policies on boat arrivals – offshore detention and boat turnbacks. But Labor does not support temporary protection visas on the basis they unnecessarily leave refugees in limbo for years. Instead, Labor has a policy of abolishing the visas and converting them to permanent visas.

Minutes after his press conference had ended, Albanese re-emerged to say: “Earlier on I heard half the question, I didn’t hear all of it.”

“Labor’s policy is to support Operation Sovereign Borders – we support offshore processing, we support resettlement in third countries. We don’t support temporary protection visas.”

It was the second clarification Albanese has been forced to make on border protection in four days after having to clarify on Thursday Labor still supported offshore detention.

Morrison hit back, saying there had “always been three elements” to the Coalition’s successful border protection policy and ”all three strands are needed”.

“And I do know that the Labor Party have never believed in it, they have never supported it, they have never understood it and that’s why they can’t be trusted to keep it.”

Morrison has not named who would take on Ruston’s existing portfolios of social services and women’s safety, saying he saw the health portfolio as most important to give clarity about in the midst of a pandemic.

But he grew flustered amid persistent questioning about the social services portfolio, throwing several references to “Mr Speaker” into his responses to the media before catching himself – “there you go, I’m back in parliament,” he laughed.

If the Coalition wins the election, Ruston will take over from incumbent health minister Greg Hunt, who is retiring after steering Australia’s response to COVID-19.

One of his final duties was to announce funding on Sunday for continuous glucose monitoring for all 130,000 Australians with juvenile Type 1 diabetes.

Five-year-old Kieran Delaney didn’t know the minister was on his way out as they chatted at an event for children with diabetes.

“I think one of you guys will win,” Kieran said, gesturing at both Hunt and Morrison.

Five-year-old Kieran Delaney, centre front, nominates retiring minister Greg Hunt as his pick to win the coming election.Credit:James Brickwood

Hunt responded that he was backing the prime minister, but the young boy wasn’t having it.

“I’m backing him!” he said, pointing emphatically at Hunt.

Morrison’s laughing response? “Gee, thank you buddy.”

After two days in north Queensland, Albanese made a flying trip to the NSW’s northern rivers region which was devastated by recent floods. Labor has been highly critical of the government’s response to the floods, particularly its initial financial support in nearby Lismore which is in the Nationals-held seat of Page.

He headed to Bangalow in Labor-held Richmond where he met the Reverend Rosie Wynter.

She helped evacuate people in Bangalore and surrounding towns and is still collecting and offering clothes and goods to people still recovering from the flooding.

Albanese was accompanied by his partner, Jodie Haydon, who hugged Wynter as they left the church and her home through which water swept through in early March.

While in the region, Albanese dropped into the Byron Bay Bluesfest, which is being held for the first time in three years after pandemic-induced cancellations, where he was greeted with a rockstar reception.

Morrison headed to Western Australia on Sunday, the first trip to the west for either leader since the election was called.

Jacqueline Maley cuts through the noise of the federal election campaign with news, views and expert analysis. Sign up to our Australia Votes 2022 newsletter here.

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