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Holding the Government to account

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I was greatly humbled and honoured to be elected as President of the AMA at last month’s National Conference in Canberra.

It is an exciting and challenging time to assume such an important position – in the midst of a close, hard-fought federal election campaign, with health at the top of the agenda. I want to make sure that it stays there.

I am talking to all sides of politics about the issues that matter to you and your patients. Getting rid of the Medicare rebate freeze and increasing funding for public hospitals are top priorities.

The rebate freeze is unfair and it is wrong. We know that it is pushing many practices to breaking point. Some are being forced to introduce patient charges for the first time, others are having to increase their fees. Either way, patients lose out and health suffers.

It is bad policy because it causes people to think twice before seeing their doctor. It will mean more people turning up at hospital – the expensive end of the health system.

Hospitals are already under enough pressure. All levels of government need to realise that an ageing population and epidemics like obesity and drug use are pushing demand up.

We need to break the idea that health is a cost. It is an investment in the future of our community. Without good health, you cannot have a healthy society or, for that matter, a productive economy. Spending on health is not just another budget line to be cut or held down.

I will criticise the Government when they deserve it. I will speak up fearlessly when they produce bad policy.

But I want such criticisms to be the start of the conversation, not the end. I want to engage constructively with all sides of the political debate, and to find better ways forward.

I want to invigorate a conversation on the medical workforce. We need more training positions, not more medical students – and certainly, not more medical schools. The workforce we train should meet the needs of the community it is there to serve. We can do better for rural Australia.

The AMA has a long history of advocating for the sick, the vulnerable and the voiceless. That will continue under my leadership. I have committed myself to continuing the AMA’s work in closing the gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous health outcomes. I want to do more on mental health. I will hold the Government to account on the health care of asylum seekers.

I congratulate Dr Tony Bartone on his election as AMA Vice President. He is a much valued colleague and friend. I look forward to working closely with him in the next two years to advance the interests of patients and AMA members.

I pay tribute to the tireless work of my predecessor, Professor Brian Owler, and former AMA Vice President Dr Stephen Parnis, in advocating on behalf of patients and our community.

I look forward to the next two years as AMA President with great energy and enthusiasm.