The increasingly desperate efforts by the APS to deny the evidence that it only ever advocated for one Medicare rebate for the relatively small cohort of its members with clinical psychology qualifications – a fact revealed in the APS submissions to government in 2006 obtained under Freedom of Information legislation – seem to be taking us ever deeper into fantasy land.
Now we are told by our highly paid Executive Director via APS Matters that “Abbott had already made up his mind before the APS submissions were made.”
We can’t help but regard that as an insult to members’ intelligence.
A colleague who attended a function which Abbott attended (well before he became Prime Minister) tells us the exact opposite. At this function, Abbott was asked directly how he had formed the opinion that clinical psychologists were the best providers of mental health care. According to this witness, Abbott replied that he had relied on the advice of the APS.
Abbott expounded further that as a minister making such decisions he was forced to rely on the information provided by peak organisations like the APS for guidance.
That story echoes the experience of lobbyists and others who routinely work with ministers and their staff. Politicians typically have a background in law – or in Abbott’s case journalism – rather than anything even remotely relevant to mental health. They seek out and rely on advice from the principal organisations in the area. The suggestion that Abbott made a unilateral decision affecting psychologists without a thorough briefing from the APS is beyond laughable. Politicians simply don’t buy unnecessary fights with bodies like the APS.
And the logic doesn’t add up:
- If Abbott decreed prior to May 2006 that clinical psychologists were the gold standard of psychological expertise, alone worthy of a higher rebate than their colleagues, there would be documentation. You’d expect it to be in the APS files as well as departmental files and it too would be retrievable via FOI. Where is it?
- And even if one blindly accepts the Littlefield hypothesis, and Abbott had made such an extraordinary decree, why did Littlefield fail to challenge the ministerial view? Peak bodies like the APS have a responsibility to their members, their profession/business and the public. They have the sort of public influence which politicians take very seriously indeed. The suggestion that any peak body worth its salt would meekly accept a ministerial or bureaucratic decree just doesn’t wash.
- And if this hypothetical decree from Minister Abbott exists, then where is the response from the APS? Where are the APS submissions arguing for a generalist tier, or for that matter any other tier than the one for the APS College of Clinical Psychologists?
How can members regard Littlefield’s lame accusation that members are yet again being “misinformed” as anything other than misdirection and blame-shifting? The scenario that Littlefield advances is simply not plausible.
With every dubious “explanation” that the current board deploys to stack the vote in favour of the governance review, the case against the APS and its leaders grows ever more compelling. They have let the bulk of their members down. They have let the profession down. They have let the public down.
Members are entitled to ask why, in the 10 years since we are assured Minister Abbott suddenly appointed himself as the sole, unquestioned authority on the practice of psychology, the APS has not once ventured to correct what is a policy failure and an intolerable abuse to the stature and reputation of the majority of its members.
There are wider issues of professional responsibility and social justice here too, in that a body like the APS should keep in mind the human suffering caused by bad policy and the compounded financial disadvantage which is inflicted on vulnerable and distressed patients who receive less from Medicare to support their access to care.
While everyone goes looking for a letter from Abbott prior to May 2006, or argues about why the APS can’t show you due to political sensitivities, those vulnerable people in our society are abandoned in a state of neglect due to bad policy which remains unchallenged.
What we need to contemplate now is a rigorous inquiry into the conduct of the APS. We can see how members have been misinformed. The even bigger question is this: was the government misinformed? And as a result, was the taxpayer fleeced?