Q&A with the President
AMA PRESIDENT DR TONY BARTONE
For the President’s column this month, AMA President Dr Tony Bartone sat down with Australian Medicine, as the 46th Federal Parliament opened, to discuss the AMA’s priorities following the recent federal election.
AM: How is the AMA positioned post-election?
TB: I think the outcome of the election, and our presence and our activity during the campaign, highlighted our importance and our position in the whole health debate. We got an enormous amount of cut-through in a very congested and crowded space.
In the days leading up to the election we were the go-to voice for impartial, non-partisan assessment of the various parties’ policies. We had a very detailed brief of the criteria against which to assess them and we gave them a very unbiased assessment in the whole process.
AM: Is the election result and outcome one we can work with?
TB: Clearly, I’ve got as relationship already with the Minister (Health Minister Greg Hunt). Yesterday for example, I saw him at the coffee shop in Parliament House. He stopped, came over and had a chat. In that process we covered three or four key issues that were on the agenda right that very minute. So, that’s the immediacy and the importance of that ongoing relationship, which wouldn’t have been as possible if we were still building with someone new – be it of either party. He knows what our issues are and he knows that when I say something, it’s representing the wider membership. However, I will stick to the key principles. I won’t be dissuaded from any important piece of advocacy that we need to do.
People say, ‘what’s your agenda now?’ Guess what? It hasn’t really changed. There has been an enormous number of issues that we prosecuted. If we look at our pre-election document, we covered 21 items, 40 pages, a detailed list of asks – and they remain as relevant now as they did a week before the election campaign.
There is an increased desire by the Prime Minister and the Minister on mental health. That remained one of the areas which we called out both sides on before the election. We highlighted the lack of clarity and the lack of detail in the approach across the whole mental health spectrum.
The Minister called a roundtable in the second week he was back in the chair, for all the stakeholders in that space. We were at that roundtable and we made our views known quite clearly. In doing so, we will work to help set a clear framework and an agenda in the months ahead.
And I think our National Conference was very clear on mental health. NatCon said they want the AMA to take a leadership role in trying to solve this issue.
AM: What about the crossbench? How important will the minor parties and independents be to the AMA?
TB: Obviously the Government has a majority in the Lower House, but in the Upper House there’s no clear ascendancy. But we will work with all sides of the House, all parties, all people, about good health policy. We have an informative role. If we can inform and educate the various Members of Parliament, that’s two-thirds of the job done.
AM: Is the AMA entering a new era?
TB: I don’t want to overplay the hand, but clearly there are the optics as well as the synergy of a number of announcements and situations – we have new Secretary General; we have a new Board make-up with two new Board Members; there are new faces around the Federal Council; there’s going to be new impetus and activity to achieve outcomes.
We’ve had a number of challenges over the last 12 months that we have overcome; and there was the uncertainty of an election cycle. I’ve had the privilege of leading the AMA into an election season. It was important to advocate. Now we’ve got an outcome, we’ve got three years of a Government that needs to develop a conversation and a policy platform with the Australian people at a time of increasing pressure and scarce health resources. At a time when the value proposition for private health is being questioned. At a time when waiting lists are getting longer and longer and longer. At time when more and more people are suffering from the effects of poor collaboration in mental health policy reforms. At a time when aged care is in focus every day for all the wrong reasons.
The wider macro economics of the health portfolio, the wider media space, the optics of a new Sec-Gen, the challenges ahead for the Association family, make it a very, very critical time in terms of setting us up for the future. Not just for my next 12 months, but with a view to the life of this Government and beyond.
AM: Was your recent meeting with Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton productive?
TB: We had a very respectful conversation. We are very clear about each other’s issues and concerns and we will continue to have constructive dialogue in the weeks ahead. The Government has a particular course of action – a particular way ahead – and we will remain engaged to ensure that at the end of the day we can hand-on-heart be clear about our commitment to the ongoing, independent medical assessment and access to appropriate medical care of the refugees.
We had a very, very open and informative conversation. I think at this early juncture, there was an acknowledgement of the intent to continue to have that conversation.
AM: What is at the top of the list of current AMA priorities?
TB: The Minister has announced a 10-year plan for general practice. Clearly, that remains very, very important in the piece. But so does the impending crisis – current and worsening crisis – that is private insurance and private health care. The system that we leave for the doctors of tomorrow and our patients is very much in the balance, depending on the outcome of that conversation.
Mental health, aged care – I’ve spoken about them both already, but they are right up there at the top of our priorities. There is also clearly a focus during the remaining part of my term on the health and wellness of our doctor colleagues around the county.
Indigenous health is always on the agenda. Obviously, it continues to remain a high priority for the AMA.
AM: Ken Wyatt is the Minister for Indigenous Australians and the first Indigenous Minister with the portfolio. He is no longer the Indigenous Health Minister – that appears to be part of his new portfolio and is also obviously part of the wider Health portfolio. Do you think this new arrangement will be good for Indigenous Health policy, or is there a risk that it could get somewhat lost a little in the new mix?
TB: I’ll reserve judgement. It remains early days and obviously that is one of the key areas we need to work with. There has been a month of enormous activity up on the Hill sorting out who’s who and their relative staff. It’s still too early. This week has been as much ceremonial and administrative as anything.
AM: Why is being part of the AMA important today?
TB: This is a really crucial time for the AMA. We have a new Government, with a focus on some clear areas where it wants to take health policy. But clearly, we have to ensure that we have a whole-of-health, a holistic, approach to health policy. And clearly, we need to ensure the survival of the symbiotic nature that is the private and public health system that underpins our access to universal health care. If private health collapses, universal health care will be a thing of the past – and with that so will be the access, especially for the underprivileged and socially disadvantaged.
That’s one reason why doctors should embrace the AMA.
It’s an exciting time to be part of it – to have the opportunity to influence policy and influence outcomes. Be part of the collective voice – whether it’s at National Conference; whether it’s through the various committees and councils through the States and Territories; whether it’s at a national perspective for Federal Council. There are many opportunities and avenues to influence and be part of that vision. Get on board, because it’s a fast-moving train and there’s plenty happening.
Published: 12 Jul 2019