Labor’s pledge to establish an independent Health Reform Commission says much more about the politics of health than it does about Labor’s policy agenda. According to shadow minister Catherine King, who launched the proposal at a National Press Club lunch this week, this permanent policymaking body would deal with challenges such as chronic disease, cost barriers, hospital waiting times and workforce shortages.
The challenges identified by King are vitally important, of course, but from a policy perspective the commission makes no sense. (The politics are a different matter, to which we’ll return.) After all, an entire federal Department of Health exists to provide the government with advice on the direction of the health system.
One of King’s justifications for the new body is that it can “transcend the short-term political cycle,” with commissioners appointed for five years. Yet the 3500 employees of the Department of Health are already employed outside the political process, and most of them remain in the public service for more than five years. A handful of ministerially appointed health reform commissioners is not going to increase governments’ ability to obtain independent advice on health policy.
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