In a long eight-week Federal Election campaign that struggled to connect with voters, health was arguably the issue that defined the result. A sustained campaign on universal health care from Labor was one of the notable causes behind the tight polling numbers, and in the days following Election Day, health policy was flagged by Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull as a particular focus area for his new government.
In the lead up to the Federal Election on 2 July, Vision 2020 Australia campaigned strongly to gain policy commitments to prevent and treat avoidable blindness and vision loss and support people who are living with blindness and vision impairment. Focusing on the major parties and key minor parties, Vision 2020 Australia coordinated dialogue between the sector and key party spokespeople, ramped up direct advocacy and targeted candidates in marginal seats with a social media campaign.
The cornerstone of Vision 2020 Australia’s campaign was a bold policy platform that was developed in collaboration with members. Towards 2020 set out fifteen key recommendations to reduce avoidable blindness in Australia and the Indo-Pacific region, close the gap in Indigenous eye health and increase community participation for people living with blindness and vision impairment.
With the Towards 2020 platform in tow, Vision 2020 Australia held Vision Summits with each of the major political parties in early 2016 to provide a forum for the parties to respond directly to member concerns. Key spokespeople were in attendance at each Vision Summit, including Shadow Assistant Minister for Health, Mr Stephen Jones MP, Shadow Minister for Indigenous Affairs and Shadow Minister for Ageing, the Hon Shayne Neumann MP, and Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for Foreign Affairs and Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for Immigration the Hon Matt Thistlewaite MP from the Labor Party. Australian Greens leader, Senator Richard Di Natale was in attendance from the Australian Greens and Minister for Rural Health, the Hon Senator Fiona Nash attended from the Australian Government.
Throughout the Vision Summits and campaigning at large, several of Vision 2020 Australia’s policy recommendations became prominent talking points.
Some of the key highlights from the campaign included:
- There was interest from all the major parties for the development of a successor to the 2014-16 National Framework Implementation Plan (NFIP to set priorities for eye health and vision care until 2020). In particular, Minister for Rural Health, the Hon Senator Fiona Nash, indicated that a new NFIP was under active consideration by the Australian Government.
- Minister Nash voiced support for greater efforts in prevention and encouraged the sector to submit a proposal for a national eye health promotion program with consistent interest for this approach from the Labor Party and the Greens.
- The Labor Party pledged to restore indexation of the Medicare Benefits Schedule, if it got into power, from 1 January 2017, increasing pressure on the Australian Government to follow suit.
- All three parties noted an ongoing commitment to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander eye health and vision care. While no new commitments were made, outreach optometry and ophthalmology services, system coordination and trachoma elimination was noted by the Australian Government and the Labor Party as key priorities.
- There was continued support from all parties for the roll out of the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) and a willingness to consider ways of strengthening the NDIS and aged care reforms to better support people who are blind or vision impaired.
- And while there was no specific commitment, the Labor Party indicated that eye health would be a key priority area for Australian aid and re-affirmed increasing aid to 0.5 per cent of GNI over time and the Australian Greens pledged to do this by 2025.
As the counting wraps up, what is clear is the Federal election campaign has provided clear opportunities for Vision 2020 Australia to leverage continued progress for eye health and vision care into the next Parliament.