Need for stability in health leadership
BY AMA PRESIDENT DR TONY BARTONE
Last month’s leadership spills, which resulted in Australia having a new Prime Minister in Scott Morrison, almost delivered us the fourth Health Minister in five years. That would have been a disaster; especially with an election no more than nine months away (maybe even less).
Since the Coalition was elected in 2013, we have seen Peter Dutton and Sussan Ley come and go, and Greg Hunt resign as Health Minister amid the Government’s leadership chaos.
Prime Minister Morrison could easily have left Greg Hunt out of his new Ministry, but he chose not to. He opted for consistency and stability. He made the right call.
In January 2017, Greg Hunt became Health Minister at a difficult time. His predecessor, Sussan Ley, left the portfolio in controversial circumstances. He inherited a lot of unfinished business.
To his credit, he worked hard from day one to get across his new portfolio, one of the toughest in politics, and he went out of his way to build personal relationships with the leaders of all the major stakeholders.
He worked closely with my predecessor, Dr Michael Gannon, and I am pleased that close relationship has extended to my Presidency, talking regularly on the phone and meeting often in person.
As Health Minister you need to understand the many issues and numerous policies and all the potholes and roadblocks in health to appreciate the vital need to have consistent leadership at the top of the Health Ministry.
It takes months to get across the detail and to get to know the key people.
Greg Hunt had to almost immediately deal with the fallout of the GP co-payment fiasco and the slow burn of the Medicare rebate freeze, which were undermining all efforts by the Government to be on the front foot on a range of policies – anything but the cursed co-payment and the feared freeze.
He fought hard within Cabinet to achieve the gradual lifting of the Medicare freeze.
He has had to gain thorough knowledge of the complex MBS Review process.
There was the ongoing review of Private Health Insurance and out of pocket expenses.
The rollout of the My Health Record.
The problems with the Health Care Homes trial.
Then there were the more tricky and delicate issues of mandatory reporting, medical workforce, climate change and health, the health of asylum seekers, Indigenous health, and mental health, to name but a few.
Add to this the complexities of the PBS, immunisation, and issues pertaining to scope of practice – the so-called ‘turf wars’.
Then he had to consider contemporary major issues like aged care reform and the issue that we want him to concentrate on right now ahead of the election – general practice reform and investment.
It takes time to learn to be a Health Minister. And it takes even more time to become a good Health Minister. Greg Hunt has been easy to work with and always ready to listen.
That is why we went public with our calls for Greg Hunt to be re-appointed Health Minister in the new Ministry. Prime Minister Morrison obliged. A smart move I would say. If the Coalition had changed Ministers, their policy agenda would have drifted and left them extremely vulnerable on a sensitive policy front.
I met with Minister Hunt in the week of the election spills, when he was still the Minster, and we have spoken in the days that followed and since he was re-appointed.
Continuity of care is always important, even in politics. The AMA will build on this close relationship to improve health policy ahead of the next election.
Equally; I have also met with Opposition Leader, Bill Shorten, in recent weeks.
The AMA is in regular contact with Shadow Minister Catherine King, the Greens, and any party or Independent with an interest in good health policy.
It is important that all sides of the political divide understand and appreciate our health policies and why they are important to the Australian people. Our patients, their families and the community deserve no less.
Let me be very clear in assuring all that the AMA is in a very good position to influence health policy across the political spectrum in the months before the election, and even better placed to pass judgement on the health policies once the campaign itself is in full swing.