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14 May 2018


If I was ever to be asked how to make two years disappear before your very eyes, I would answer authoritatively from experience: “Get yourself elected Federal President of the AMA.”

As the end of my term as President of this amazing organisation draws near, I look back fondly and with pride at the events, incidents, agreements, arguments, successes, and adventures that are part and parcel of this job – for those who have gone before me and for those to follow.

Being AMA President puts you at the centre of health policy and politics in the nation’s capital, more so than almost any other role in advocacy and lobbying in this country.

As President of the AMA in Western Australia before being elected to the Federal role, I thought I knew a bit. I saw the move to Canberra as maybe a ‘step up’. I was wrong. It is like moving from the fifth floor to the top floor of a multi-storey skyscraper … on a very fast elevator.

The number of policy issues to grapple with is multiplied many times. So too the number of meetings. You must deal personally, often face to face, with Ministers, Shadow Ministers, MPs and Senators from across the political spectrum. Plus their staff. And their departments and bureaucrats. You are on first name basis with the Prime Minister and the Opposition Leader. Yes, the AMA President is in the game.

So, what have I done with this influence? Quite a lot, in fact.

It is hard to focus on a single event or decision as the standout, however. You have to look at the range of issues. They are all connected.

But you would have to start with the lifting of the freeze on Medicare patient rebates. Sure, we did not get the dream result – an immediate lifting of the freeze across the board. Six years (or perhaps 30 years!) of ‘catch-up’ indexation would have been nice. But it was a significant political win. It signalled a seismic shift in how the Government dealt with the AMA and the medical profession.

The PM’s decision to move Greg Hunt into the Health portfolio was clever and inspired. The new Minister wanted to work with us literally from hour one, and that relationship has grown, matured, and endured. It has delivered results for the profession. I hope that it continues with my successor.

We succeeded in fundamentally shifting the focus and diminishing the threat of the Indemnity Review. We have a key role at the heart of the MBS Review. We are a guiding voice in the review of Private Health Insurance. We were instrumental in the after-hours reforms. We steered the redesign of the Practice Incentive Program (PIP) in the right direction.

The AMA protected the interests of both GPs and pathologists in the ongoing discussions on pathology collection centre rents. We ensured there was no clawback by the Government on the hard-won reforms of medical indemnity in the early 2000s.

We stuck with the evidence and supported the TGA on the upscheduling of codeine, against a well-funded and well-organised campaign from the pharmacy sector. And we achieved the right outcome for patients.

Every single day, I have pointed to the importance of prevention and public health, of GPs, of public hospitals, and the private health system to the health of Australians.

The AMA was prominent in the highly-charged campaign for marriage equality, and conducted ongoing support for the health of asylum seekers. We released significant position statements on firearms control, obesity, addiction, women’s health, the NDIS, child health, Diagnostic Imaging, and men’s health.

We remained vigilant on immunisation.

We continued our proud tradition of advocacy on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health.

Perhaps some of the more significant achievements of my Presidency relate to the health and the ethics of the medical profession.

I stood by the AMA’s carefully-constructed position on euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide during sometimes heated community debate in five States. I promoted the AMA’s leading role in doctors’ health services, including securing a positive mandatory reporting outcome from COAG, and I have prosecuted the AMA’s strong stance in getting rid of bullying and harassment within the profession and the broader health sector.

I contributed to health on the global stage, being elected to the Ethics Committee of the World Medical Association, and helping to develop policies on the impact of climate change on human health, women’s health, the promotion of universal health care, end of life care, and the formal review of the Declaration of Geneva.

This is just scratching the surface of what has come my way as AMA President.

I did not need an alarm clock the whole two years. My dawn chorus was the Australian media. Rarely a morning went by without a call from a breakfast news program. Calls to Perth from east coast media during daylight saving were a highlight. Indeed.

It has had a personal cost, being away from family often, and sometimes for long periods of time. The haters will hate. Neither the critics nor, in fairness, the fans seem to understand the hundreds of hours, involving many different people, of thought, research, endeavour, and debate that go into our policies and position statements.

I have enjoyed great support from many people. I have had people seek to undermine me. I have spent hundreds of hours on aeroplanes. It has been tough.

But it has also had many, many benefits on the personal and professional front. Yes, I had fun.

Would I do it all again? Without a doubt.


Published: 14 May 2018