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Monday, 16 August 2010 16:31

Gillard trumpets broadband health plan

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Prime Minister Julia Gillard has pinned Labor's re-election hopes on a neatly woven narrative about the transformation of the Australian economy and delivery of government services that puts its National Broadband Network at the core of the final week of campaigning.


Of the policy fronts that have dominated the campaign, at the centre is the claims from both sides as the better economic managers and the more trustworthy safe pair of hands for Australia's economic future.

Officially launching her campaign in Brisbane today, Ms Gillard highlighted jobs and skills and education as the key Labor strong points that would underpin the ongoing strength of the economy - but always returning to broadband as the fundamental future driver for the economy.

In the biggest policy announcement of today's launch, Ms Gillard unveiled a $392 million health initiative that will allow Medicare rebates to be paid for online consultations - an initiative that will both rely on and drive NBN take-up.

She pledged a further $58 million to provide doctors and other healthcare specialists with financial incentives to provide broadband-based consultation services.

The National Broadband Network, since its 'official' launch by the Prime Minister in Tasmania a week ago has become a central issue for Labor in the 2010 election, feeding into policy announcements across the government.

By contrast, as Labor has jacked up its broadband messaging campaign, the Coalition has tried to move the debate on. Shadow communications minister Tony Smith virtually went to ground as soon as the opposition announced its $6 billion alternative plan - to the loud complaints of industry and academia - leaving Malcolm Turnbull as the most effective advocate against the NBN policy.

A strong future economy was essential for the future of the nation, and that required investment in infrastructure, Ms Gillard said, warming to her theme about jobs and prosperity.

The new eHealth initiative is important because it paints a picture of the yet to be built NBN that politicians have had difficulty conjuring. More importantly, it paints for Labor a forward-thinking vision for service delivery that is simply non-existent in Coalition commentary on broadband.

Because the primary beneficiaries of the new eHealth policies will be Australians living in remote and regional areas, the issues neatly wedges the Nationals, who have doggedly opposed the NBN in the interests of Coalition unity ever since Tony Abbott  became leader late last year. But it's a problem for them.

"Friends, it is disturbing to me, it's unacceptable to me, it's offensive to me, that if you live in rural and regional Australia you are up to three times more likely to die within five years if you are diagnosed with cancer than other Australians," Ms Gillard said.

"And that is because it is harder for people in regional and rural Australia to get access to the services, to the health care professionals they need," she said.

"Well I want to transform that. I want to transform it soon, and I want to transform it for the future, relying on the National Broadband Network."

Ms Gillard talked in terms of "embracing the technology of the future," claiming Tony Abbott's misunderstanding of the infrastructure meant the Coalition was looking backwards to Howard-era policy.


The initiative is smart because it both attract further investment in the development of delivery platforms to enable the new health services - and will drive both interest and take up in the broadband services.

The Computers in Schools program - which the Coalition says it will rip up - was a second area of technology Labor has been attacking Mr Abbott with, claiming it is an example and a foretaste of a plundering of public education.

Broadband, with jobs, skills and education, is now front and centre as a primary issue in 2010. It is the highest profile ICT issue in a federal election ever.

"That's good for business and it's good for jobs, and what I say to people across Australia, is I want each of us to prosper," Prime Minister Gillard said.

"A job is essential for a family's future. A strong economy is essential for a nation's future. I will build that strong economy, investing in skills, investing in infrastructure, focusing on jobs, and families within the nation will be able to build their future with the benefits of work."


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