If the
Australian Institute of Sport is Australia’s last bastion of socialism, then the Australian Medical Association is our last really powerful
union. The Howard Government’s IR changes were designed in part as a
union-busting exercise, taking away unions’ ability to negotiate collectively.

Why
then is the AMA not in the Howard Government’s sights?

Not
only is membership of the AMA compulsory for doctors – and compulsory unionism
had members of the government foaming at the mouth over VSU since, oh, forever,
until they finally managed to get rid of compulsory student unionism late last
year – but they are a closed shop when it comes to other professions, er, “encroaching” on their bailiwick.

Take
the latest palaver over a proposed hotline
staffed by nurses, where people can call and find out whether they might need to
visit a hospital, or if they’ve just got a bit of a sore tummy and ought to stay
in bed with a cup of chamomile tea. “It won’t help!” howls the AMA: “The people
that turn up to emergency departments by and large need to be there and such a
system may well increase the demand of people needing to be seen in a general
practice or in an emergency department,” says the AMA’s union boss, sorry,
President, Dr Haikerwal.

Heaven
forbid a nurse should be able to tell people whether they’re sick or not –
that’s the doctor’s job!

But the
storm-in-a-hospital-teacup-issue is only the latest in the AMA’s history of
protecting their monopoly. When Howard announced in 2003 that Medicare would
start paying rebates to
practice nurses who give immunisations or perform “wound management” there were howls
of outrage from the AMA. More recently, Abbott announced Medicare rebates for prenatal testing in rural areas carried out by nurses or midwives –
again provoking outrage from the AMA.

In
fact, the AMA go so far as to distort evidence, and even blatantly mislead the
public about the safety of daring to seek alternatives to the medical model.
Take the fact that they argue doctors are best placed to provide care for pregnant
women
– despite the fact that the World
Health Organisation says pretty much the opposite – “the midwife is the most appropriate and cost
effective type of health care provider to be assigned to the care of normal
pregnancy and normal birth, including risk assessment and the recognition of
complications.” Just one example.

So why isn’t the Howard Government moving to bust this
particular union? Perhaps because the AMA doesn’t have a long history of
association with the Labor Party, and is full of, well, doctors, and not those
nasty working-class types?

Obviously when it comes to compulsory unionism, there are
smelly long-haired students involved in protesting against stuff, and then there
are nice, professional, Liberal-voting doctors in white coats. Two different
kettles of fish entirely.

Peter Fray

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