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AMA changes leadership

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Sydney neurosurgeon Associate Professor Brian Owler has been installed as the AMA’s 23rd Federal President following elections held at the AMA National Conference.

A/Professor Owler, immediate-past President of AMA New South Wales, won the endorsement of his colleagues in a contest with long-standing AMA Vice President Professor Geoffrey Dobb for the position.

In a wholesale changing of the guard at the head of the organisation, emergency physician Dr Stephen Parnis, immediate-past AMA Victoria President, was elected as Vice President, prevailing in a three-way contest with former AMA Queensland President Dr Richard Kidd and former Chair of the AMA Federal Council Dr Roderick McRae.

The position of AMA President became vacant following the decision of incumbent Dr Steve Hambleton to step down following a gruelling three-year term during which he was at the forefront of national debate on health policy while simultaneously steering the Federal AMA through a period of internal upheaval.

A/Professor Owler is a driving force and the face of New South Wales’ ‘Don’t Rush’ anti-speeding campaign, and he appears on billboards and in television ads warning of the risks and damage associated with road accidents.

He has also been a prominent campaigner for stronger laws to minimise alcohol-related violence, and greater community education about the health harms caused by alcohol abuse.

In his acceptance speech, A/Professor Owler paid tribute to Dr Hambleton and Professor Dobb, who he said had together provided strong and effective leadership for the AMA and ensured its national pre-eminence in national debates on health policy and issues affecting the medical profession had been maintained and enhanced.

In particular, he said, Dr Hambleton had given the AMA a calm, effective and persuasive voice on the national stage during a politically turbulent period while at the same time managing the organisation through a difficult period when it was without a Secretary General.

“The last three years have not been easy for Steve,” A/Professor Owler said. “There were times that he really kept the AMA going, [but] from the outside you would never guess the difficulties we had.”

While spending countless hours ensuring the AMA continued to operate smoothly, Dr Hambleton at the same time ensured the medical profession’s views on an enormous range of medical and health policy issues were heard loudly and clearly, the new AMA President said.

A/Professor Owler told the Conference Dr Hambleton’s third year in office was a stand-out for the quality and breadth of his advocacy and work in advancing the interests of patients and doctors, including through the successful Scrap the Cap campaign, the Federal election, the e-health review and – most recently – the Queensland public hospital dispute, where his ability to build consensus and thrash out a solution acceptable to all was outstanding.

A/Prof Owler said Professor Dobb had been an excellent Vice President and support for Dr Hambleton throughout his presidency.

“The hardest thing about the [AMA President] election we have been through is that I admire Geoffrey and respect Geoffrey as much as anyone,” the AMA President said. “His contribution in the past few years has been enormous.”

Dr Parnis, who has in the past campaigned vigorously on emergency access targets in hospitals and improving work conditions for hospital doctors, told the Conference he was honoured and humbled to have been elected AMA Vice President.

“The office itself is not the issue, it is what you can achieve in that role,” Dr Parnis said. “I ask you to watch very closely over the next couple of years, because I intend to give this job everything I have got. I promise the new President my utter support, loyalty and good counsel.”

Both men have been elected to a two-year term.

Adrian Rollins