Mr Rudd has started a week-long tour of eastern states hospitals to promote his health policy as the opposition pledged to take financial control of all public hospitals unless the states meet targets set down in a $2 billion reform program.
“If we can’t get agreement then (we will go) to the Australian people for a mandate for the Commonwealth to take over future funding responsibility for all of Australia’s 750 hospitals,” Mr Rudd told reporters.
Federal Health Minister Tony Abbott criticised Mr Rudd’s hospital tour as a stunt, but said it would provide the opposition leader with an education.
“What he will learn is the clinical staff throughout Australia, and particularly in NSW and Queensland, are fed up to the back teeth with chronic mismanagement by state Labor governments,” Mr Abbott told reporters in Sydney. Mr Abbott said Labor was the problem with public hospitals, and a federal Labor government “will just make it worse”.
While admitting both levels of government had struggled with health management, Mr Rudd said his policy would put an end to the health system blame game.
“I believe that state and territory governments have had problems, real problems, when it comes to management of health and hospital systems,” he said. “I also believe the federal government has real problems in the underfunding of those systems.
Mr Rudd attacked Prime Minister John Howard over his election advertising budget, saying the $1 million in taxpayer funds spent daily was an “obscenity”.
At the same time, Labor is mounting an unprecedented effort to get expatriate Australians to vote in the coming election by encouraging them to register before the election is called. In London the ALP has run a series of internet and print advertisements aimed at the estimated 100,000 Australians living there, as well as using a loose network of party supporters.
A spokesman for the Liberal Party said that the party had a branch in London and would be cranking up its efforts when the election was announced.
Australia House in London is the largest polling booth outside of Australia. More than 20,000 people cast their votes there for the 2004 election. Hong Kong followed with 7700 voters. The ALP is also making efforts there, as well as in Shanghai and southern China, an area where Australians are increasingly moving for work.
The pre-election enrolment drive has a new urgency in this election. Electoral laws passed by the Howard Government mean that electoral rolls will close almost immediately after the election is called. The ALP claims this will disenfranchise thousands of mostly young voters, as well as Australians overseas.
The Australian Electoral Commission has also been running a campaign to get people correctly enrolled before the election is called. The Electoral Commissioner, Ian Campbell, has encouraged Australians who are overseas and who are not on the electoral roll to check if they are eligible to enrol from overseas. “If you’re an Australian citizen and you’ve been overseas for less than three years and intend to return to Australia within six years, you are still eligible to enrol,” he said.
About 68,000 Australians voted while overseas at the last election. Many expatriate Australians remove themselves from the rolls under the mistaken impression this is necessary to become a non-resident for tax purposes.