First look at new era of RACGP advocacy

3 minute read

While it swears that it won’t use Pharmacy Guild tactics, the college’s new approach will use grassroots members.

GPs are being asked to make their voices heard, with a new RACGP advocacy group aiming to put members quite literally in front of pollies. 

The new members network was officially launched on Friday as part of the college’s new advocacy plan and was the subject of several sessions on day one of its 2024 Practice Owner’s Conference.  

While details are still scant, GPs who join the network will receive training and support in building a relationship with their local representatives at both state and national levels.  

It’s a model already employed by the Breast Cancer Network of Australia.  

“The one thing that we do consistently hear [from politicians] is ‘I never hear from my GPs’,” RACGP president Dr Nicole Higgins told delegates.  

“They’ll say ‘yeah, my pharmacist is there every week like clockwork, I hear from this profession and that profession, but I never see my GPs’. 

“They want to hear from us, they actually want to know more and they’re really, really interested in … what we’re doing.” 

Perhaps aptly, the best summary of the new approach came in the form of a comment from conference delegate Dr Ian Kamerman, who will be familiar to many as the former head of training organisation GP Synergy and a past RDAA president.  

“One of the strongest bits of advocacy you can do is have 10 GPs across 10 different electorates bring up an issue with a local MP at the same time as the RACGP or any other stakeholder body is bringing it up with the minister,” he said.  

“Backbenchers telling the minister the same thing as what he’s hearing from the coalface is extremely powerful and often leads to significant change, and that’s the power of the backbench.”  

In response, RACGP national public affairs manager Liam Ferney said the college vision was to do exactly that – but on the scale of 151 GPs in 151 electorates.  

Another clue as to how the college would be working on advocacy came from former vice president Dr Bruce Willett in a later session.  

“If you’re arguing from a quality and safety point of view with politicians, you’re probably not going to win the day,” he told delegates.  

“Which is terrible, because that’s where we come from, but we have to talk about things that are satisfying electorates.”  

When asked whether the college would be looking to powerful professional groups like the Pharmacy Guild of Australia or the Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation for guidance, the answer was a firm “no”, however.  

“As much as we admire aspects of how the Pharmacy Guild get their outcomes, we have a different approach – and we have to, because we’re a different structure,” RACGP Queensland chair Dr Cathryn Hester said.  

“We have to meet our member’s needs, but we also have to advocate for things that are acceptable to the public and also for things that are acceptable to the government as one of our most important stakeholders, particularly in GP training.  

“We have bounded constraints, and so our approach is going to always be relational.”  

The RACGP’s Practice Owners Conference 2024 was held at the Cairns Convention Centre in Queensland between 24 and 26 May.  

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