Report from two Directors

Meeting with Reform APS 12th January, 2017

Background

We were invited by Sophie Bobrowska and Jenny Corran to the Novotel St. Kilda to attend a meeting of the Reform APS Group (RAPS) on 12th January 2017 in order to hear their concerns about the two-tier system and its impact on the profession. Both of us knew these women as committed members of the psychology profession. At first, there was also the possibility that we might explain and clarify some issues, from a Board perspective, without any breach of confidentiality.

Felicity Allen, as the Board member with responsibility for Victorian members, was naturally interested in attending and learning about their views on the issues and perhaps clearing up any misapprehensions. Before either of us could do so, we each received a highly legalistic letter signed by the President of the APS suggesting that confidentiality had already been breached by ‘one or more directors’ and gratuitously reminding us of our fiduciary duties, particularly with respect to confidentiality.  We later discovered that at least two other Board members had received the same letter.

The tone of the letter was such as to act as an implicit warning against attending the meeting and was certainly taken as such by others. We did consider declining the invitation from RAPS so as not to cause further dissent on the Board – since it’s quite clear from his letter that the President disapproves of this group and does not want Board members to associate with them.

Upon further reflection, it occurred to us that, as citizens of Australia, we have a right to attend any lawfully constituted meeting we choose and to express our opinions openly and reasonably.  As the Victorian representative of the APS Board, Felicity Allen has a further fiduciary duty to attend meetings of Victorian members in order to listen to their concerns. After Felicity Allen had pointed out these facts in an Email to the President, who did not reply, we went to the Novotel at the appointed time.

Meeting

The meeting was well attended for a mid-week meeting in January, and we saw two National Office members present. We wondered whether they too had their fiduciary duties to their employer clearly in mind, but did not get the chance to ask them.

In order to deal with the Board confidentiality issue, when we were introduced to the meeting, we explained that we had come as observers to listen to their concerns and that we would make certain that they were conveyed to the Board, but that we would not discuss the issues with them. We believe that an opportunity to clarify issues with committed members was lost there, but at least this statement saved us from being accused of being one of those Board members who had breached confidentiality.

Members’ concerns

Those who spoke made several points about the two tier system of refunds from Medicare:

  • the existence of a higher pay rate for a minority of psychologists (clinical psychologists) has led to the perception that generalists are inferior in some way,
  • they have consequently lost professional standing in the eyes of the public and business from referring agencies such as doctors, government organisations and health insurers,
  • they are no longer routinely asked to do assessments for large government agencies such as Centrelink, Veterans Affairs and the Australian Defence Association which has further affected their practices

Post hoc analyses of clinical studies by two respected academics (Professor Mark Anderson and Dr Clive Jones) were presented to the audience. These clearly showed that there is no evidence base to support the idea that members of the Clinical College have a higher success rate with patients than members of other colleges or generalists. We think that the Board must address this issue.

Most disturbing were their views about the APS itself. One of those present commented that she resented paying large fees to the APS only to ‘live in fear’ of reprisal if she expressed her opinions publicly about the two tier system. At one time, we might have thought that this anxiety was exaggerated and inappropriate, but having received the aforementioned letter from Dr. Cichello we were prepared to concede that she might have a point.

We have now learned that the organiser of the meeting has been told that she must choose between membership of Reform APS and the Counselling College. This is a member who has been on the College Committee for years and a member of the APS for many years (her membership fees alone must amount to thousands of dollars). This over-reaction certainly seems to support the speaker’s anxiety about APS.

Conclusion

Reform APS represents a group of members whose views differ from many of those on the APS Board. This is not to suggest that they are necessarily wrong or that they should be prevented from airing them.  They certainly seem to have some major concerns about the viability of their practices under the present system.  We would suggest that National Office invite some representatives to discuss their concerns directly and try to assist these members with their issues.

Dr Felicity Allen, PhD, M.A.Ps.S.                                 Mrs Jill Wright,

Director.                                                                                 Director