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Ley’s action, a new way?opinion

Federal Health Minister Sussan LeyCALL it vacation interruptus. Squared. One day after Tony Abbott interrupted his holiday to defend his government’s revamped Medicare rebate, his new Health Minister terminated her holiday to dump it altogether.
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If you think this a very bad look — and it is — contemplate the alternative.

“It was going to be carnage,” is how one insider described what awaited the federal government if it had held firm.

With patients facing the prospect of paying an extra $20 to see their GP from Monday, every doctor’s surgery loomed as a baseball bat to be wielded against the government. And to what end?

With opposition and crossbench senators committed to disallowing the rebate changes when Parliament resumes next month, the government was facing a huge dose of pain without a purpose.

So why did Abbott give no hint of the backdown when he spoke on Wednesday, instead challenging Labor and other critics to come up with an alternative to make the health system sustainable?

Maybe he needed more time to think it through.

Maybe he needed Sussan Ley to deliver her blunt verdict.

Either way, after the two spoke on Wednesday, the government’s second major Medicare retreat was ticked off in a conference call yesterday, with Abbott addressing his colleagues from his vacation spot on the NSW south coast.

“People often think you send the Health Minister an email (and) she never reads it,” Ley said.

“In fact, I’ve read an awful lot over the last fortnight and … I’ve heard, I’ve listened and I’m deciding to take this action now.”

If the conclusion is that the government has started the new year in the same chaotic manner it finished the old one, the Ley template for listening and acting could provide a “new way”.

But her task is unchanged. It includes addressing the rising cost of Medicare by introducing a “modest co-payment” for those who can pay. No wonder Ley cut short her leave.

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