Morrison to name new health minister, while Tudge in limbo

Social Services Minister Anne Ruston is tipped to be named to the health portfolio this weekend in a government move designed to assure voters there will be a smooth transition in the key policy field when Health Minister Greg Hunt leaves the post at the election.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison will name the replacement for Hunt in a shift towards health policy after the economy and employment dominated the opening week of the campaign.

Social Services Minister Anne Ruston is tipped to be named to the health portfolio to replace retiring Health Minister Greg Hunt. Credit:Alex Ellinghausen

Ruston, who is also the Coalition’s campaign spokesperson, is seen as the leading option to become the designated health minister just as the government is being urged to make a series of major policy commitments to healthcare.

But Morrison is being repeatedly challenged over the status of Alan Tudge after the education minister stood aside last December but kept his cabinet rank during an inquiry into his relationship with a former adviser, Rachelle Miller.

The government has cleared the way for Tudge to be restored to cabinet after the election on the basis the Department of Finance has offered more than $500,000 to settle a complaint brought by Miller over her treatment while an adviser.

Tudge denied Miller’s claims that he was emotionally abusive and on one occasion physically abusive during their relationship. The claims led him to stand aside as minister in December while the government waited for a review by former senior public servant Vivienne Thom, whose report was issued on March 4 and found there was insufficient evidence on the matter.

Alan Tudge and his former staffer Rachelle Miller.Credit:Alex Ellinghausen

Morrison emphasised on Monday that Tudge had remained a minister throughout the review and could resume the education portfolio, praising him for working on a national curriculum that made sure children were “taught the right things about Australia” in schools.

“Nothing has changed. Mr Tudge elected to stand aside. He’s still a minister. He has not resigned his position and nor has he been dismissed,” the Prime Minister said.

“We had a full independent inquiry into the matters, serious matters that were raised, and [it] was found that there was nothing that would prevent him from continuing to serve as a minister.

“No one else has been sworn in as education minister. No one has gone to the governor-general. There have been no resignations. And should Mr Tudge wish to return, I certainly, I know he will. And I look forward to him doing that.”

Labor leader Anthony Albanese noted the use of taxpayer funds to settle the dispute while he accused Morrison of “chaos” in the ministry because of the lack of clarity about Tudge’s position.

“We had a situation whereby he stood down, but apparently still got his job in the cabinet. And I just find it remarkable, and it says it all about the chaos with who’s on the other side of politics,” Albanese said.

Hunt has held the health portfolio for five years and announced last December he would leave parliament at the election, but Morrison has held out on naming a replacement despite expectations he would do so before the campaign began.

The announcement, provisionally set down for this weekend, is tipped to be made around a policy statement on health to persuade voters to back the Coalition in the recovery from the pandemic.

Grattan Institute health program director Stephen Duckett has called the year ahead a “standstill year” for healthcare after modest policy changes in the March 29 budget at a time when state governments are calling for federal help to deal with the load on public hospitals.

“Public hospitals across the country are under immense pressure not just from people presenting at emergency departments but also from the elective surgery backlog,” he said.

Duckett recommended an extension of at least two years in the 50:50 cost-sharing agreement between the federal and state governments on growth funding for hospitals rather than the federal plan to leave 55 per cent to the states.

He also backed the removal of the federal government’s 6.5 per cent cap on the increase in its payments, saying this and the cost-sharing relief should last for at least two years.

Duckett said the government could also use the election campaign to outline new measures for primary care and a way to help patients with the out-of-pocket costs under Medicare for expensive services from medical specialists.

Jacqueline Maley cuts through the noise of the federal election campaign with news, views and expert analysis. Sign up to our Australia Votes 2022 newsletter here.

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