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13 Nov 2019

BY AMA SECRETARY-GENERAL DR MARTIN LAVERTY  

When a government establishes an inquiry, taskforce, or review, it is usually called for good reason. A crisis might need a response, a long running problem might need fixing, or a challenge of the future can be planned for.

If you’ve ever been asked to participate in a taskforce or policy review, you’ll recall being flattered by your first invitation. When a government seeks expertise, it’s nice to be asked.

However, for those who’ve been around government reviews for a while, it is wise to have pragmatic expectations about what an inquiry or taskforce can actually deliver.

I was delighted in 2012 when my book – Determining the Future: A fair go and health for all – triggered a Senate Inquiry into why Australia had ignored World Health Organisation recommendations on social determinants of health.

It got even better the following year when, after a several month Inquiry involving effort of many contributors, the Government, Opposition, and Cross Bench Senators issued unanimous recommendations on how to implement the World Health Organisation action plan.

Almost a decade on, the recommendations of that Senate Inquiry sit on a shelf.

The Government today has established multiple inquiries, taskforces, reviews, and two Royal Commissions, all of which are underway at once.

The AMA is formally involved in these multiple reviews, be it the ongoing MBS Review Taskforce, the Primary Health Reform Steering Group, the expert steering committee for the ten-year national preventive health strategy, or the Residential Aged Care Funding Reform Working Group.

All are important. All can lead to real change. The proposals made to the review processes by the AMA and others alike are informed by desire to improve health outcomes across Australia.

However, implementing the multiple findings of each of these reviews will need significant coordination. Primary health reform must relate to the preventive health strategy, both of which must relate to the MBS review. This coordination is not overly apparent. 

More so, implementing multiple findings of multiple reviews will need significant new funding. By gathering together experts, and asking them to come up with solutions, the Commonwealth must simultaneously prepare to find new money to meet the cost of action.

The lead up to Christmas is peak season for Federal Budget preparation in Canberra. Departments are preparing budget submissions, in response to priorities already set by the Government’s Expenditure Review Committee.

If the inquiries, taskforces, and reviews are a priority for the Government, work should be underway now to make provision for new spending in next May’s Federal Budget.

It‘s of course not just new health measures that need funding, but also measures already announced but not yet funded.

The last Federal Budget committed $62.2 million to the National Rural Generalist Pathway. The AMA was a key member of the taskforce that developed the proposal to better recognise rural generalists. The last Budget’s funding was a down payment. Next May’s Budget needs more. I’m worried it’s not going to be funded.

The AMA representatives involved in the many inquiries, taskforces, and reviews currently underway are working hard on behalf of the profession, and ultimately patients everywhere. The AMA has an additional job; to ensure the many reviews deliver. 

 


Published: 13 Nov 2019