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Ryall reveals his hollowness on Agenda

Written By: - Date published: 3:54 pm, October 1st, 2007 - 13 comments
Categories: health, national - Tags: ,

all_your_base has already posted on Tony Ryall’s weasel words on yesterday’s Agenda programme, but what struck me about the interview was Ryall’s utter hollowness on policy.

Here he is farming out elective surgery to the private sector:

GUYON: Okay let’s talk about elective surgery because the Ministry of Health says at the moment the private sector does about 2% of elective surgery, what would you like to see that rise to?

TONY: Well I don’t think we’ve got a specific number in mind but we very much see the private sector as being supplemental to the work that’s going on in the public sector.

GUYON: But have you got an idea of roughly how much you’d like to see that private sector being involved?

TONY: Well I think there’s a much greater use that could be made than what’s being made at the moment, it’s because we want more service for patients…

Simply astounding. Remember, Ryall isn’t just some guy being asked about his ideas on healthcare – he’s National’s health spokesman and would be Minister of Health under a National government. His ideological obsession with privatisation comes through loud and clear, but he doesn’t seem to know what this would actually entail. He can’t give Guyon a specific number because he has no idea whether the private sector can actually supply a meaningful additional number of elective surgeries. All he has is an ideological opposition to the public health system.

Of course, if the private sector is only providing 2% of elective surgery, then it’s silly to assume (as Ryall does) that private hospitals are employing a load of spare capacity just waiting for public sector contracts.

This is just one example from an interview full of vague proclamations about National’s ability to create a more efficient (read ‘cheaper’ not ‘better’) heath system through privatisation and cutting non-medical staff, but at no point does he back any of this up with specifics, numbers or a real plan (what does “re-engaging health professionals” mean in practice?). Hollow ideas from a hollow man.

Because the fact is Ryall doesn’t really believe a word he’s telling us. He isn’t after a more effective public health system assisted from time to time by the private sector; he wants to gut the public system and make healthcare into just another private commodity. And if you can’t afford to pay? Well, you can go down the road then, can’t you?

13 comments on “Ryall reveals his hollowness on Agenda”

  1. Daveo 1

    Hollow indeed. It’s been clear for a while that Tony Ryall is talking out his arse, but I wonder how many of National’s anonymous donors have interests in the private healthcare sector?

  2. Hey Tane – your post suggests that National are the enemy of public health and Labour the saviours – which is obviously not the case. You also correctly point out Ryall’s hollowness, but what about pointing out the dire and vagueness that we’ve seen from Pete Hodgson?! God that guy is bad.

    Under Labour the health system is still running along a private-oriented model – I guess because Labour are still neo-liberals when it comes to health. In terms of waiting lists this government has been incredibly bad, and the winners of Labour’s policies has been the private health sector. We could have a discussion about this. For instance, the Herald recently said that the ‘Public hospital waiting lists are a boon to the private sector’ who have been able to ‘cherry pick’ the more straightforward cases, leaving ‘public hospitals to do the difficult, expensive work’. This has led to a situation under Labour whereby more elective surgery is actually carried out in the private sector than in the public: ‘Southern Cross funded 126,000 operations in the past financial year, compared with 105,000 elective operations in public hospitals’. According to Southern Cross, a growing proportion of patients are paying for private surgery – paying the full price, ‘typically surgery costing less than $5000, such as hernia repair or cataract treatment’. Similarly, under Labour, ‘ACC buys up to 80 per cent of its elective surgery from private hospitals and the Counties Manukau health board buys around 11 per cent’.

    Read more about how crap health is under Labour and National, here:



  3. Sam Dixon 3

    Bryce – the post doesn’t say Labour is better, just that National will be worse. And this my friend is the real world: we have a choice between a centre-left and a centre-right government, its a stark choice and you’ve got to decide which side you’re on.

    Labour is far from perfect but they’re at least heading in the right direction. If its not enough for you, fair enough, support the Greens (the only party to the left of Labour with a hope of mking it into Parliament) – you’re still supporting a centre-left government but helping shift the balance of that government leftwards.

  4. Labour is not actually heading in the “right direction” (unless of course you mean “the right-wing direction”). On health (and other policies) Labour has retained all of National’s previous neoliberal stances. Labour’s so-called Third Way has been all about embedding these rightwing changes. So it’s a bit silly to suggest that there’s any great choice between the tweddledum and tweddledee parties of Labour and National, who are basically just two centre-right parties.

    In the above post, Tane is just playing the part of an apologist for the Labour-National status quo.


  5. all_your_base 5

    Bryce. Straight-up. Do you *honestly* think that things would be the same under the Nats? If you had nieces or nephews that were voting for the first time and for whatever reason trying to decide only between National and Labour would you really tell them “it doesn’t matter which of those two parties you vote for, they’re both the same”?

  6. Sam Dixon 6

    bryce – tane doesn’t extol any position in that post, he only criticises National’s vague, neoliberal one. Incredible, its like your anger about Labour’s reformism prevents you from even reading what’s in front of you.

    Mate, its simply not sufficent to spit the dummy and say ‘all the parties are the same’, they’re not, some are better than others and backing those that approach what you beleive in is the only way to get there. Rejecting them all is not just ineffective, its worse than that – lefties rejecting the system is the best way to ensure the right dominates and makes things worse…. but go on, reject if you will, John Key wants you to.

  7. For the amusement of your readers – one of our gnomes snapped the following picture in National Party HQ. It shows Key with a new privately owned public school (get your head around that?).


  8. ak 8

    “So it’s a bit silly to suggest that there’s any great choice between the tweddledum and tweddledee parties of Labour and National,”
    Get a life Bryce. Talk to someone who actually lived and worked through a few of the previous decades. Talk to some of the workers who slogged in factories all day then ran raffles, deivered pamphlets, and worked their fingers to the bone to get the Alliance where it was only to see all their efforts sacrificed on your altar of ideological purity just as their fingers were on the levers of real possiblilty. Do a stint at your local foodbank and find out the hourly rate of the people who clean your ivory tower. Take a good hard look at what emotive divisiveness does for any organisation.

    By all means theorise – but half-baked sniping is just lazy and annoying. And sharpen up a bit if you want to cut it even in the ethereal world – eg from your post; “more elective surgery is actually carried out in the private sector than in the public” when just above Guyon has said “the private sector does about 2% of elective surgery,” – and wasn’t contradicted by Ryall.
    And if our system is so crappy, explain how this highly-respected survey could have rated our health service first above the UK, Australia, Canada, Germany and the USA in 2004: http://www.commonwealthfund.org/usr_doc/1027_Davis_mirror_mirror_international_update_final.pdf?section=4039
    If you really want to help people, get to know them first and then buckle down and push in the same direction. Don’t waste your talent and privileged position in pointless undermining of your own cause.

  9. Tane 9


    As others have pointed out already, my post was not about Labour’s record – it was about the hollowness of National’s health policy. Like you, I’d like to see a lot more funding go into health, to the point where it’s free for all New Zealanders regardless of their wealth. And I’m sure Labour would too.

    But you see, there’s this little thing called political reality, and it’s noticeably absent from most of your comments. Because increasing health spending to the levels you’d like would mean either substantially increasing government revenue (read: higher taxes) or major spending cuts in other areas. Neither are particularly likely in the current political environment. These are the constraints a centre-left government faces, which means you’re limited to using what you have to best effect – hence the govt’s focus on primary healthcare. Is it perfect? No. But ask people who will no longer be able to afford to take their kids to the doctor if National gets into power and you might gain some perspective.

    So here’s an idea – instead of just mouthing off about how things aren’t exactly as you’d like at the moment, why not put up some constructive ideas on how we could get there?

  10. The Standard responses to my comments strongly shows that you guys just cannot handle the Labour Government being exposed to any critical analysis from the left.

    The health system under Labour is very much into using the private health sector. Labour’s health policy is to have primary health pretty much totally run by the private sector. Even in the area of dental care, you guys seem to want a private model.

    You guys are so much into “the real world” that pragmatism ends up determining all your politics. All the arguments that you use of the same ones that the rightwing faction of the Labour Party used throughout the 1980s in order to introduce Rogernomics. Douglas, Lange, Palmer, Moore, Clark et al constantly made the argument over and over again that “we have to face reality”; “don’t over theorize just use common sense”; etc. And you Standard guys just buy into the same bullshit. So going on your lack of principles I can see why Labour is so easily pushed to the right.

    Sam says that “Labour is far from perfect but they’re at least heading in the right direction”. But why don’t you ever indicate what Labour should improve upon. Or are you just a cheerleader?! And there’s no evidence that Labour are heading in the right direction at all. They entrenched all of the neoliberal policies from the 1980s and 1990s! They’re even reducing corporate taxes for the rich! The National Party didn’t even do that in their nine years in government! In fact the divide between the rich and the poor has become even greater than it was when National was in power. And Labour is totally committed to reducing expenditure to the extent that government spending as a proportion of GDP is less than what Ruth Richardson could achieve! These aren’t just theories – they are things that have hit the poor hard.

    All_your_base: where is this quote from that you attribute to me: “it doesn’t matter which of those two parties you vote for, they’re both the same”?

    I agree that in many ways National are worse than Labour. And in other ways Labour have been worse than National. For a start, Labour have gone to war, invading many more countries than National ever did. In fact Labour are spending significantly more on the military than National ever did. Labour are actually much more gung-ho than the last National Government.

    Tane is acting as an apologist of the neoliberalism of Labour and National. If he regards himself as leftwinger then he should be challenging them both. And, Tane, it’s just rubbish to suggest that Labour has any sort of policy of making health free for all New Zealanders. Labour is actually quite opposed to this idea.

    Ak – your suggestions to “Get a life Bryce” show how limited your arguments are! And if you’re going to differ to me on the proportion of private and public elective surgery, at least provide some evidence instead of more unthinking Labour rhetoric.

    And note the poor state of the health system under Labour – according to the Commonwealth Fund. In terms of OECD countries it ranked NZ under Labour near the bottom for several key indicators of health. For instance:

    Public Heath funding (per person):
    NZ = $1600; OECD= $1900

    Pharmaceutical spending (per person):
    NZ= $174 OECD= $377

    Hospital beds (per 1000 people):
    NZ=3.2 OECD= 3.6

    Physician numbers (per 1000):
    NZ= 2.2 OECD= 3.2

    Years of lost life due to diabetes (per 1000 people):
    NZ=72 OECD= 39


  11. Sam Dixon 11

    Byrce- I know I for one welcome constructive criticism of Labour from the left, indeed I make it regularly (but not in a post that’s about National’s health policy, you must have noticed by now that this blog is not Labour apologist – its anti-National with some good old fashioned left-wingism (strikes, environmentalism) on the side).

    The problem I have is, Bryce, you haven’t provided any critical analysis. You’ve just labelled anyone who isn’t a rejectionist a pawn of the neoliberals.


  12. Sam’s idea of “constructive criticism of Labour from the left” is to fawn over all over the Government and tell them to do better in exposing National!

    My critical analysis in the above thread was to show that Labour really aren’t offering any alternative to National – and I produced a number of details and facts to back this up.

    And, yes, if people like Sam Dixon refuse to reject neoliberalism than I don’t see why they shouldn’t be labelled “a pawn of the neoliberals”.

    I’m looking forward to reading The Standard’s critical post about Labour’s health policy. I guess I’ll be waiting a while…


  13. Roger Blunt 13

    Well said, Bryce, although you may be a bit misguided. The health system is collapsing under its own weight, and really only functions as an emergency service. I have ulcerative colitis, a long-term uncurable problem. For a consultation, I must go to a private specialist as there are none in Wellington in the public sector who will allow a timely appointment. Further, the long-term prognosis is bowel cancer, and my GP tells me not to cancel my medical insurance because it would be next to impossible to get treatment at a public facility.
    Neither Labour nor National are competent health service thinkers. Pete Hodgson: I remember him as the guy who denied that we had an electricity supply problem, because “nobody had told him that the lake levels were critical”. And he is the guy in charge of health. He wouldn’t understand a management system if it hit him in the eye. What a guy to have in charge of our must critical social spending area! Tony Ryall: tries to speak for himself, and fails every time. What a nasty character. Remember also that Helen Clark is a past minister of health and did nothing. So what’s new in the Labour Party, apart from their ability to redistribute income? Certainly nothing in the health sector.

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