The Australian Medical Association Limited and state AMA entities comply with the Privacy Act 1988. Please refer to the AMA Privacy Policy to understand our commitment to you and information on how we store and protect your data.




Many changes over the past five years

As this is my last report as Secretary General I would like to reflect on the changes that have taken place in the governance and operations of the AMA over the last five years.

27 Jun 2018


As this is my last report as Secretary General I would like to reflect on the changes that have taken place in the governance and operations of the AMA over the last five years. Five years ago, Federal Council was not only the policy-setting vehicle of the AMA but was also the corporate board with responsibility for finance, risk, corporate strategy, membership strategy and so on. With 35 members it could give neither of these responsibilities the investment of time or detailed examination required.

Five years on Federal Council operates as the focused, policy-driven heart of the AMA. Position Statements are debated robustly, differing views respected, and invited guests attend the policy sessions to inform Federal Council debate on a wide range of topics. Under Dr Beverley Rowbotham, Council proceedings have become more free-flowing which facilitates deeper engagement by the Council in complex policy development. A communiqué is provided to members after each meeting of the Council, published in Australian Medicine.

The Board, on the other hand, operates as a corporate board should, with detailed attention to finances, budget, risk, corporate strategy, membership strategy, investment, and corporate and legal compliance. The Board has taken difficult decisions, acting in the best interests of the company and its members.  The Board uses its committees – Investment, Audit and Risk, and Nominations – to undertake the detailed analysis before bringing recommendations to the Board. The Board’s governance is well-articulated through a Board Protocol and a Board Charter. These recognise the separation of responsibility between the Board and management, and the different roles played by the Chair and the President. The President’s position as the public face and voice of the AMA is embedded.

The AMA continues to be a medico-political powerhouse. Negative commentary on the declining penetration of AMA membership among the total number of doctors has not diminished its significance or influence. This does not mean that Federal and State/Territory AMAs must not work closely and cooperatively together to address this issue and to ensure that the AMA remains relevant and integral to the next generation of doctors.

Over the past five years there have been changes made to the way Federal Council operates. Five practice groups are recognised as representing places or stages of practice – doctors in training, general practice, private specialist practice, rural practice, and public hospital practice. These inform the focus of much of AMA policy. They each have a seat at the table.

The practice groups are now represented by delegates at National Conference, enabling a spread of representation of the membership. The by-laws specify that any vacancies in delegate positions must be filled having regard to geography, gender and specialty. 

Australia’s Indigenous doctors now also have a seat on Federal Council as a result of an amendment to the Constitution approved at the Annual General Meeting in May which provided for a nominee of the Australian Indigenous Doctors’ Association to be appointed.

More needs to be done to reform Federal Council to make it more representative of the membership, much as National Conference has been reformed. The AMA’s five practice groups each have one seat on Federal Council.  And yet each group represents a significant proportion of members.  In my last report to Federal Council I put to the members that if Federal Council is to be truly representative then further reform must be undertaken in order to give adequate voice to the AMA’s constituents.

In adopting such a change, I would also urge that regard be had to a balance of geography, gender and specialty.  As the heart of AMA advocacy, Federal Council must evolve to reflect the membership and give voice to its diverse views.

I commenced my term as Secretary General with Dr Steve Hambleton as President, continued with Prof Brian Owler and Dr Michael Gannon, and completed it with newly-elected President Dr Tony Bartone. All are outstanding representatives of the AMA membership. I have served under two Chairs of Federal Council – Dr Iain Dunlop and Dr Beverley Rowbotham. Dr Rowbotham commenced her term with the change to Federal Council and has led the reforms to the way it operates. And I have served under two Chairs of the Board – Dr Elizabeth Feeney and Dr Iain Dunlop – who have led the transition of the association into the modern era.

When I came into the position of Secretary General, my aim was to develop a high performing culture within the AMA Group. I leave acknowledging the professionalism, talent, good humour, and outstanding commitment of the staff within the Secretariat and across the wider AMA Group. I am enormously proud of our achievements.

Published: 27 Jun 2018