Transcript of interview with Dr Michael Page by 6PR’s Oliver Peterson regarding AMA Federal-State Relations | AMA (WA)


Transcript of interview with Dr Michael Page by 6PR’s Oliver Peterson regarding AMA Federal-State Relations

Saturday March 2, 2024

With AMA Federal choosing to abruptly end good faith negotiations with the AMA (WA) this week, and sever ties with the State body over our claims for a more equitable contribution of fees to Canberra, yesterday AMA (WA) President Dr Michael Page explained the situation to 6PR’s Oliver Peterson on Perth Live. This is an edited transcript of the interview.

Oliver Peterson: Hamish Hastie at WAtoday published an exclusive story earlier this afternoon, reporting that the national Australian Medical Association has written to all 5,000 WA members alerting them to, to quote, “the upsetting news that their membership had ceased because the WA branch had abandoned a long-standing practice of collecting federal dues with state fees for forwarding them on, so there was no avenue for WA doctors to be ordinary AMA members”. Let’s try and find out what’s going on. Michael Page is the WA President of the Australian Medical Association. Dr Page, good afternoon.

Dr Page: Good afternoon, Olly.

Oliver Peterson: Are you forming a splinter group, a rebel group away from the AMA? What’s going on?

Dr Page: No, no, look, not at all, Olly. Just for the benefit of the listeners, the AMA is a federation. So, there’s a body in Canberra which is the AMA Federal. And there’s an AMA (WA), and there’s an AMA in each state and territory, and we’re all independent. We’re all autonomous organisations. We are completely independent from one another. But of course, we have this arrangement so that a proportion of our member fees goes to the AMA office in Canberra, so that they can do the advocacy and lobbying on behalf of doctors and patients that needs to be done at a national level, and we support that, and we have supported that for a long time. Now, we haven’t had a formal agreement with AMA Federal for a number of years now, and over the last couple of years we’ve been trying to really renegotiate the terms of the agreement because in the end, we’re the stewards of our, you know, our members pay a reasonable amount of money to be our members and we’re stewards of their money, and we need to make sure they get good value. We need to make sure that we are able to deliver the services that we need to deliver at the State level, and at the same time that the Federal AMA is able to deliver its services, and we simply wanted to have a conversation about that. The negotiations became difficult but they were ongoing and then yesterday the Federal AMA blindsided us by actually telling us that they were cutting off negotiations, even though they were continuing in good faith and said, look, your members are no longer members of the Federation. But I, you know, look, honestly, Olly, I don’t see this as the end of the road. I see this as a step in a longer negotiation. We do support having a Federal AMA. We want our members to be associated with that. We want our organisation to be associated with the Federal AMA. We’ll keep working away on it.

Oliver Peterson: So, is the sticking point about the breakdown of the finances basically; that they are getting too much?

Dr Page: Look, I think that’s, to put it simply, it is about money and it’s a shame because, you know, the last thing our members want is to hear us bickering about money with Canberra. They just want us to get on with the job of representing them, and representing and advocating for the health of the community and their patients. So, I sort of get that but in the end, we need to make sure that all of the AMAs, the state AMAs and the Federal AMA can continue to operate. Costs are rising. We’ve had a couple of tough trading years. We’re coming out the other side of that, but we need to make sure that we’re strong into the future. A lot of professional associations are having similar issues. It’s a very tough kind of game to be in being in a representative member organisation. It’s expensive and difficult to recruit members, and delivering the service is increasingly expensive, as a lot of other kind of businesses around the place are finding in this period of high inflation. So, we operate in a tough environment, and we need to make sure that both the Federation and the Federal AMA and the state AMAs can continue to operate. And as I say, you know we were, we were really blindsided by this decision. We had good faith negotiations ongoing and they’ve decided to cut us off, but we’re gonna keep working at it.

Oliver Peterson: And by that being blindsided with the fact that e-mail went to your members, obviously without your knowledge and the fact we’re even talking about it now, is it a bit embarrassing to be airing these sort of grievances publicly. Because you know, as you said before, it’s part of the advocacy work you want to make sure that your, your doctors are really representing  themselves and their patients, and getting on with the issues that you are trying to prosecute, not talking about the internal bickering of doctors.

Dr Page: Exactly. And I think it was unwise of the federal body to do it this way. They need to also be cognisant of the fact that we are not the only state that’s raising these issues with them. Queensland, Victoria, South Australia, all have been raising exactly the same issues with the federal body, and so it’s not as though we’re the naughty child over here in the Wild West. This is something that other states have been advocating for, but to no real avail. So yes, we’re the first to be carved off but again, we’re going to keep working at it.

Oliver Peterson: So, do you still have confidence in in the national Board and the AMA Federal President Professor Steve Robson?

Dr Page: Yeah, look, I mean, at the moment we’re not part of the federal AMA, so, we don’t actually, you know, right now we’re not part of the federal AMA.

Oliver Peterson: We’ve seceded. We’ve managed to secede, Michael, after all these years and after the COVID years, we’ve finally brought up the drawbridge.

Dr Page: Yeah, but it wasn’t of our own volition, you know. I thought that the idea of secession was that we walk out the door. No, no, no, jokes aside, that’s not something we want. We don’t want secession from the AMA.

Oliver Peterson: You reckon you’ll be able to patch things up sooner rather than later?

Dr Page: Look, that’s certainly what we’ll be working towards. Yep.

Oliver Peterson: Michael, thanks for your time today.

Dr Page: No worries, Olly. Thank you.

Oliver Peterson: The Australian Medical Association WA President Dr Michael Page.