Liberal party ‘not good for our health’: Labor puts hospital funding on election agenda

The federal opposition will weaponise hospital funding ahead of the next election, with Ed Husic declaring the Liberal party is “not good for our health” as the pandemic puts pressure on hospitals.

The shadow industry minister made the comments on the ABC’s Insiders program on Sunday, and also provided qualified support for Bill Shorten’s call for mandatory Covid-19 vaccines for MPs.

It comes after state and territory leaders wrote to the federal health minister, Greg Hunt, on Thursday asking for the temporary 50-50 health funding agreement with the commonwealth to be extended to June 2023. They said this was needed given Australia is “entering the most critical phase of the Covid-19 pandemic response for our hospital systems”.

The Queensland premier, Annastacia Palaszczuk, has linked the hospital funding issue to her plans to reopen interstate borders, which Scott Morrison rebuffed on Friday as a form of “shakedown politics”.

Husic said federal Labor supports the national reopening plan but there needed to be a “particular focus on the safety elements” including contact tracing and isolating, as well as “strong, safe hospitals”, and vaccination support to ensure no groups were left behind, such as teenagers.

He said political leaders who argue Australia should learn to “live with Covid” have the resources to look after themselves, but his constituents in local government areas of concern in western Sydney rely on the public health system.

“To say to those people without health supports in place, without the investment in place, that they can be looked after, that is just untenable … and it is a factor that has to be considered in any discussion about opening up,” Husic said on Sunday.

“My view is that the federal and state Liberal parties are not good for our health in respect of do they have the funding there to support people.

“There are disparities in health outcomes within this city of Sydney and that will require investment and focus once the cameras move from this issue and go on to the next thing.”

Husic also accused the Morrison government of “getting ready to race out of [income] support”, after the treasurer Josh Frydenberg announced the Covid disaster payments would be phased out two weeks after the 80% vaccination rate was reached.

“I would absolutely hate to think that Josh Frydenberg thinks he can correct his historic $134bn budget deficit by ripping out support at a time that might hurt the economy,” he said.

On Friday Morrison stared down calls for an extension of hospital funding, telling reporters in Canberra the Coalition had increased hospital funding by 70% since it came to government compared with the states’ 40% increase.

Morrison said that hospital funding is a state responsibility and there had been “a lot of opportunity to prepare” for an expected surge in demand.

“I don’t think the pandemic should be used as an excuse for shakedown politics.

“They just need to get on with the job, get their hospitals ready. We have showered the states in cash when it comes to the health system, to support them through Covid, when it comes to supporting their industries and economies, whether it be jobkeeper or the more recent economic supports or the Covid disaster payment.”

Morrison also responded to the Victorian government’s broad vaccine mandate, which will require politicians and their parliamentary staff to be vaccinated.

He said that the commonwealth only supports such mandates in “exceptional circumstances” such as aged care workers caring for vulnerable people.

The federal Liberal MP, Russell Broadbent, has reportedly revealed to the south Gippsland newspaper the Sentinel-Times that he is unvaccinated, meaning he could be barred from his electorate office by the new Victorian mandate.

On Sunday, the former Labor leader Shorten, now the shadow government services minister, backed mandatory vaccination for MPs.

Labor’s industry spokesperson Ed Husic.
Labor’s industry spokesperson Ed Husic. Photograph: Sam Mooy/Getty Images

Husic said the government should be “very careful about compulsion” and noted that federal Labor supports a $300 payment as an incentive to all vaccinated people.

“I think in terms of MPs, we are in communities where we are seeing a lot of people going into parliaments that bring people from across the country, and I think it is important that MPs take, as has been said, that leadership step of taking the vaccine.”

Husic said Shorten had made a “very strong argument” for MPs to be required to be vaccinated, but the discussion should be informed by medical advice.

“I think it’s important to show communities that this is an important step we all do. We can’t urge people to vaccinate and not be vaccinated ourselves.”

Meanwhile, in the wake of Australia’s radical revamp of its submarine program, Husic said that many industries and workers were “concerned about what might happen with their jobs, given the sudden shift that we’ve seen in the last few weeks”.

“The government hasn’t stepped forward and said what will happen because there is a lot of concern in the sector about the valley of death and the break between what is happening now and what may happen some time down the track.”

But Husic offered the government bipartisan support to consider “what can be done to support industry capability” by building the nuclear-powered submarines in Australia.