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New Minister – accentuating the positive

Colleagues, welcome to 2012. As has become a common theme at this time of the year, the political landscape continues to change. Having put the ‘Slipper’ in as the Speaker of the House, the Government now has a slightly safer buffer over the Opposition, meaning that it is now even more likely that the Labor Government will serve its full term in office. To top this off, 2011 ended with a Ministerial reshuffle.

16 Jan 2012

Colleagues, welcome to 2012.

As has become a common theme at this time of the year, the political landscape continues to change.

Having put the ‘Slipper’ in as the Speaker of the House, the Government now has a slightly safer buffer over the Opposition, meaning that it is now even more likely that the Labor Government will serve its full term in office.

To top this off, 2011 ended with a Ministerial reshuffle.

Our Health Minister, Nicola Roxon, was appointed Attorney-General, a position she is said to have coveted for some time, given her legal background.  She is in a good position  to continue the fight against big tobacco from that portfolio, and for that she has the AMA's full support.

We now have a brand new Health Minister with Tanya Plibersek being promoted from Human Services.  Her inner-city seat of Sydney has significant health challenges and includes some major hospitals.  The Minister already has significant insights into the health problems of the Australian community.

This was evident when I had the pleasure of a meeting with the Minister in Sydney at her electorate office on her first day back at work in January.

Having had a busy week in the media discussing many issues such as Medicare Locals, after-hours services, infrastructure grants, and overloaded emergency departments I was in the perfect position to provide her with an up-to-the-minute overview of the AMA perspective.

Throughout a fruitful casual meeting, we discussed the fact that the majority of Australians still did not understand the purpose and structure of Medicare Locals.  I added that even the health journalists were having trouble encapsulating the issues and the concept of Medicare Locals.

I advised the Minister that the AMACGP had produced a paper on Medicare Locals that outlined our concerns and our suggestions.  She asked for a copy.

I recounted my travels around the country visiting Medicare Locals in all States and Territories.

I reported that the Medicare Locals that were considered high performers and already engaging with their local GPs were in fact run by interim boards with a majority of GPs.  This is the AMA’s preferred position for all Medicare Locals.

The Minister asked about the AMA’s view on e-health and the Personally Controlled Electronic Health Record (PCEHR) and I explained that we thought the benefits of e-health remain undersold to the Australian public and, indeed, to many in the health professions.

I stressed the need for medical input to the PCEHR and the potential dangers of important information being excluded from the record.

It is the AMA view that Shared Electronic Health Records must contain reliable and relevant medical information about individuals; align with clinical workflows and integrate with existing medical practice software; be governed by a single national entity; and be fully funded by Government and supported by appropriate incentives, education and training.

The Minister took all this on board and would like further discussions.

We also talked about tobacco plain packaging, medical teaching and training, hospital beds, prevention, alcohol marketing, food labelling and obesity, and the diabetes trial. 

For a person new to the Health portfolio, the new Minister came across as well briefed and knowledgeable on the key issues and, more importantly, a politician who wants to make a difference.

She heard our criticisms about GP Super Clinics, PBS drug listings, and Better Access, and said that she is open to constructive dialogue about policy and programs.

I was very encouraged by my first meeting with Minister Plibersek.  We already have good working relationships with Mental Health and Ageing Minister, Mark Butler, Parliamentary Secretary, Catherine King, and Minister for Indigenous Health, Warren Snowdon.

The AMA will work hard to maximise the opportunities presented by these positive relationships with the Government.


Published: 16 Jan 2012