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Standing up for the profession

Becoming Federal President of the AMA was never a specific goal in my life, but rather an evolution of passion and commitment.  As leader of the AMA, you are able to serve your profession and patients across the spectrum.

15 Oct 2012

Becoming Federal President of the AMA was never a specific goal in my life, but rather an evolution of passion and commitment. 

As leader of the AMA, you are able to serve your profession and patients across the spectrum.

It is a role that should always be observed with humility. It is a role that represents the entire profession and must not be affected by vested interests. It is a role that should be underpinned by patient care as a priority, utilising tax dollars efficiently and effectively for health care delivery.

My Presidency commenced in 2007 with the Secretary General’s position vacant and a Federal election five months away. It was like being Chair of the Board of a major company facing a critical time in business, with no CEO.

The AMA relies on the intellect, ability and hard work of good staff, and the overwhelming voluntary contribution of colleagues. On these shoulders we were able to continue to do business, but it was an additional challenge.

During the lead-up to the federal election the AMA made health a pivotal issue, and it was a hot contest between a Government facing loss and an Opposition striving for power. That election and the change of Government was an exciting time to be Federal President. Many issues current today are a legacy of policy proposals debated then, and the AMA’s ability to influence them is essential for better outcomes.

A good example is The Australian headline on 5 March this year, with the new Health Minister allowing up to 10 ‘health professionals’ prescribing rights under the Australian Health Practitioners Regulation Agency (AHPRA) workforce improvements. This ongoing deregulation of quality health care for Australians was borne out of the concept of National Registration. 

Initiated in the Howard Government, this legacy is based on lowest common denominator ideologies rather than recognition of the requirement for training, standards, and complexity of skills to deliver optimal care based on expertise. We continue to suffer the afflictions of AHPRA on medical practice and care.

During my term as President we finally enlightened Health Minister Tony Abbott and, subsequently, the Prime Minister, that the National Registration model was convoluted, bureaucratic and expensive. The AMA was instrumental in stopping John Howard from signing the intergovernmental agreement.

There was an interval pause for some sense to be applied but, with a change in Government, Kevin Rudd hurriedly went ahead. Many have experienced the inefficiencies and costs of this system of registration, and the ongoing repercussions for the medical profession.

At election time the AMA had to hold the parties accountable with regards to bed shortages, emergency department overload, hospital occupancy, cost shifting, health funding, General Practice infrastructure, rural health services, Medicare, training, public–private split and, of course, party ideology.

Misdirected drivers to pork barrel electorates with Super Clinics; babies put at risk with a push for home births that made mothers feel inadequate if they chose a hospital; the ‘buck stops with me’ and Health Minister Nicola Roxon’s 2008 Ben Chifley Memorial Light on the Hill speech - these were all at play during my Presidency.

In the 2012 Labor leadership battle, Ms Roxon’s references to Kevin Rudd which – according to The Australian – “revealed the depth of this shambolic policymaking” in health, were an insight into those times.

We have an AMA for a reason. We must never assume that Government policy should not be questioned, challenged, and informed by service providers at the coalface who understand what is needed, and what can be responsibly and sensibly provided.

So, in my Presidency, to be constantly analysing and questioning; to be putting forward alternative, more effective and efficient solutions, and to be pushing hard against the juggernaut of a confident new Government bureaucracy was energising.

Bringing together our colleagues across Colleges and Craft groups was important. We achieved this across the medical profession, and even across the allied health providers on the issue of the AHPRA model.

Federal Presidency is a learning curve across all issues. The big picture is as important as attention to detail. You need to be able to stand in the face of attack, and stand on principle for the profession, not for yourself. The reward is the experience and the privilege. 


Published: 15 Oct 2012