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09 Feb 2017

Following a busy holiday period spreading important public health messages, the AMA is primed for a big year of policy and advocacy.

Following the resignation of Sussan Ley, the Prime Minister has appointed one of his most senior and experienced Cabinet Ministers, Greg Hunt, to take on the challenging Health portfolio.

This is a sure sign that the Government takes health policy very seriously, and the Prime Minister wants to turn health policy – which many commentators say almost brought the Government down at the last election – into an asset for the Coalition ahead of the next poll.

I have already had phone contact with the new Minister, including the first telephone call he made after the announcement. This was followed up with a genuinely engaging and candid face-to-face meeting with Minister Hunt in Melbourne.

At this meeting, the Minister confirmed the Prime Minister’s strategy of appointing a senior Cabinet Minister to restore the Government’s health credentials. Key to this strategy is building a trusting and honest relationship with the AMA.

I want Greg Hunt to be true to his word – to be the Minister for GPs. But he must understand the need to build bridges with all doctors and everyone who works in the health system. It also means winning back the confidence of voters. And this means fixing the Coalition’s health policy platform well ahead of the next election.

In the Minister’s mind, the fix has started.

It is clear that the Minister has done a lot of reading since his appointment, with the AMA Budget Submission on his reading list.

The Minister told me he considers the AMA an important sounding board as the Coalition realigns its health policy focus and develops the right policies. And so does the PM.

Minister Hunt has said repeatedly that he does not only intend to listen, he wants to and needs to hear, and hear clearly, the messages and advice coming from doctors and their patients.

It is obvious he has heard what the AMA is saying in its Budget Submission.

He acknowledges that the Government knows that lifting the freeze across the MBS and restoring adequate indexation is important in regaining the trust of the medical profession.

He is aware of the importance of getting things right with pathology and diagnostic imaging.

The Government knows the importance of adequate and certain funding for public hospitals.

They know that more needs to be done on prevention, Indigenous health, mental health, and the obesity epidemic.

I told the Minister that the AMA wants to be a genuinely positive force in helping the Government improve its image and reputation on health policy.

The AMA is committed to helping shape better policy on private health insurance and the Health Care Home trial.

We are committed to cooperating on the range of MBS reviews. There will need to be give and take. We are agreeable to helping to identify savings and efficiencies in the MBS, but only where and when quality patient care is not compromised.

I made it clear to the Minister that any savings must stay in the health portfolio, with greater investment in general practice a desirable outcome.

This first meeting was open and honest, and it is clear that Minister Hunt wants to make his mark in the health portfolio. We are off to a great start. Genuine consultation is guaranteed.

The challenge for the Minister, and the PM, is to push this goodwill and commitment through Cabinet in the form of quality, fully funded policy that will appeal to the profession and patients – voters.

I also had the chance to catch up with Shadow Minister Catherine King while in Melbourne. This relationship remains friendly and productive, especially with the Opposition’s commitment to lift the Medicare freeze already on the table.

The ALP has invited me to attend their Health Policy Summit, and they are happy for the AMA to ask the tough questions about Labor’s health policies.

This was reaffirmed during my first face-to-face meeting for the year with Opposition Leader Bill Shorten in Perth recently.

Mr Shorten reiterated his intention to engage doctors across the system in helping to construct ALP health policy.

Having met a number of times now, I can say that the alternative Prime Minister and I share a vision to see a health system that all Australians can be proud of and feel safe in, even if that has the potential to neutralise some elements of health policy as a party political issue.

This successful series of high level meetings to kick off 2017 places the AMA well and truly at the centre of health policy discussions from now until the next election.



Published: 09 Feb 2017