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The Anatomy Of Labor's Medicare Scare Campaign

Say Medicare again.

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On Monday, less than two weeks out from polling day, a sick prime minister coughed and spluttered through another press conference, where he got to say his mind-numbing "jobs and growth" slogan just once. Punctuated throughout, Turnbull said the word "Medicare" 15 times.

And Labor press aides, watching from Western Australia, were tickled pink.

To them it was proof that the ramped up Medicare attacks on the government were working. They had hijacked the media cycle. Instead of "jobs and growth" the PM was forced on to Labor's turf.

This is all part of Labor leader Bill Shorten's last ditch attempt to win the election. He's committed the last 10 days of the campaign to convincing Australians that Malcolm Turnbull wants to sell off Medicare.

At Labor's campaign launch on Sunday, Shorten's speech focussed heavily on the public health system. In front of a "save Medicare" backdrop he repeatedly pointed to former prime minister Bob Hawke and said Hawke's old campaign slogan was now his: "Medicare. Stays."


To work that out you need to go back to 2014. Buried in the Abbott government's first Budget was $500,000 to develop a proposal for a "commercially integrated health payment system".

Twitter: @CroweDM

It was money to investigate privatising Medicare's payment system. That's the backend, administrative part of Medicare.

According to The Australian today, the government has to date "spent or budgeted more than $10 million to examine private sector options [to manage the backend of Medicare], which are now under a cloud as a result of comments the Prime Minister has made since Friday".

Sensing how toxic the Medicare debate had become, on the weekend Malcolm Turnbull totally ruled out its partial privatisation. He even went and got some special signs made up, affixed with his signature.

Liberals are responding to Medicare attack with posters #ausvotes Signed guarantee from PM Turnbull

That's it right? Issue put to bed. Well, no. Bill Shorten visited a medical centre in Perth on Monday, raising again and again and again the prospect of Malcolm Turnbull selling off Medicare.

Mick Tsikas / AAPIMAGE

Shorten's Medicare scare campaign boils down to two main points:

1. You can't trust the Coalition promise because the Coalition has broken promises before.

2. Even if the Turnbull government doesn't sell Medicare, it won't unfreeze GP rebates, which Labor argues will stop doctors from bulk billing (you can read all about that here).

Labor even dug out a sign from the previous election about school funding (which turned out to be a broken promise), to throw some shade on Malcolm Turnbull's Medicare commitment.

So, is the scare campaign working? Well if last night's Q&A is any guide ... YES. Malcolm Turnbull spent the first 30 minutes of the show answering questions about health policy and, you guessed it, Medicare.


Labor candidates are trailing the Coalition's in key marginal seats, and this is their last stand.

"This is it," said one senior Labor source.

"We'll talk about Medicare every single day until polls open next Saturday."

Mark Di Stefano is a media and politics reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in London.

Contact Mark Di Stefano at

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