The AMA a voice of judgement and reason on health
Former AMA President Dr Steve Hambleton has urged the Association to remain a strong, intelligent, principled and constructive voice for health reform in the face of Federal Government changes that pose “significant risks” to Medicare and the health system.
In his final speech as President, Dr Hambleton told the AMA National Conference that, as the nation’s leading health lobby, the Association was listened to carefully by Government, and had a responsibility to be a voice of sound judgement and reason on issues affecting both the medical profession and the health of the broader community.
“Others look to us for leadership and example,” Dr Hambleton said. “It is vital – always – for the AMA to be in a position where its views are heard and seriously considered by the Government of the day.
“If we oppose something, we must explain why, and offer a better alternative. If we are going to tear something down, we need to propose something better to go in its place.
“That is advocacy. That is engagement. This is part of the way we influence the Government.”
The former President said the AMA’s skills of persuasion had never been of greater importance than now, given the scale of the Abbott Government’s plans to transform the health system.
“It is change that is possibly more radical and far-reaching than the Rudd reforms that I confronted when elected Vice President five years ago,” Dr Hambleton said.
“The reform agenda of the Government poses significant risks and challenges for Medicare and the health system – and we are talking about the very structure of Medicare – our universal health system.”
The former President said the changes also included opportunities for the profession, but to make the most of these the AMA would have to continue to be an active and constructive contributor to policy discussions.
“Our message [has been] that everybody in politics has to get smarter about health policy, especially about how we spend health funding.
“It was going pretty well until Budget night. People just got very dumb all of a sudden.”
Dr Hambleton backed his call for constructive engagement by citing significant recent successes in AMA advocacy, including the Scrap the Cap campaign that saw the proposed $2000 limit on tax deductions for self-education expenses scrapped by the incoming Coalition Government, and the resolution of the Queensland public hospital contracts dispute.
“This was genuine trench warfare,” he said. “The Queensland Government was determined to not take a backward step. They underestimated the profession. They underestimated the AMA.
“Our cause was the right one – and we won. This was a truly great moment for the AMA, and I was proud to be a part of it.”
The AMA’s influence was obvious on other issues as well, including its concerns about Medicare Locals and GP Super Clinics – both programs which have been abandoned by the Abbott Government – and the need to overhaul the Personally Controlled Electronic Health Record system, which has been reviewed.
Dr Hambleton paid tribute to his colleagues for their support and good counsel during his three years as AMA President and two years as Vice President.
He gave particular recognition to immediate past AMA Vice President Professor Geoffrey Dobb, his predecessor as President, Dr Andrew Pesce, current AMA Secretary General Anne Trimmer and her predecessor Francis Sullivan, AMA Executive Officers Dr Liz Feeney, Dr Iain Dunlop, Associate Professor Brian Owler and Dr Stephen Parnis, the AMA Federal Council, the AMA Secretariat, as well as his wife Deb and their children.
“It is a great honour to be AMA President,” he said. “It is not easy. There are many challenges but, if we stand together, we can achieve many things.”