Q&A: Fiona Nash agrees to drop private health cover while rural health minister

Minister for rural health Fiona Nash has said she would be willing to drop her private health insurance cover in response to a viewer question on ABC’s Q&A program about whether politicians should be banned from bypassing the public system.

Q&A audience member Tina Harris challenged members of parliament to ditch their private health cover while in office because “nothing will get done whilst our politicians are able to bypass the mess of public hospitals and go to wonderful private hospitals for their own health treatment”.

Harris complained the public health system was broken, with waiting lists of three years’ length and filthy wards and toilets, citing her own experience of five years’ of hospitalisations and surgeries after a car accident.

— ABC Q&A (@QandA) February 8, 2016

In some parts of the country, private hospitals aren’t even an option, says @SenatorNash #QandA https://t.co/xBSLbQqTb4

Nash replied that, yes, she would agree to go off private insurance. After clarification from host Tony Jones, Nash added her affirmative answer was “about if [Harris] wants me to go off private health insurance while I’m in parliament, sure”.

The minister explained public hospitals in rural and regional areas were “by and large fantastic” and private hospitals “are not really an option” in rural areas.

Monday night’s Q&A was hosted in Melbourne’s Docklands. Nash was joined on the panel by shadow health minister Catherine King, Australian Council of Trade Unions secretary Dave Oliver, industrial relations commentator Grace Collier and broadcaster Neil Mitchell.

In response to the program’s first question, Nash said the government was still considering tax reform including the prospect of an increase to the goods and services tax.

Nash and King agreed that 267 asylum seekers in Australia seeking medical treatment should be dealt with compassionately on a case by case basis. But King said they should be returned to Nauru pending an agreement to resettle them in a third country and Nash said she “would not give an indication” that any would be allowed to stay in Australia.

Mitchell labeled Victorian premier Daniel Andrews’ offer to support and house the 267 asylum seekers in Victoria as a stunt which “can’t and won’t happen”.

Collier called for unions to be subject to the same governance standards as corporations and for financial transactions between unions and employers to be banned. Citing payments from major builders to the Australian Workers Union uncovered by the Trade Union Royal Commission, Collier said companies recruit for unions or give them cash during enterprise bargaining negotiations.

Oliver agreed union transactions should be transparent but would not rule out “joint work with employers” including on training and skills. Oliver defended Sunday penalty rates, arguing that Australians value their weekends as 70% of the workforce still worked Monday to Friday.