BYO tightrope for agile policy and advocacy

Three people dressed in black walk with arms stretched out to the sides along a red line on a white floor.

BYO tightrope for agile policy and advocacy

Three people dressed in black walk with arms stretched out to the sides along a red line on a white floor.

The APA Policy and Government Relations team explains the balancing act required to seize every opportunity to advocate for the value of physiotherapy.

In the last issue of InMotion, we likened government relations to mountain hiking.

This month, we look at policy and advocacy as funambulism—our work is a constant act of balancing the responsive and the proactive.

The overarching goal is to strongly position physiotherapy in the healthcare system in a way that ensures access and good health outcomes for patients as well as sustainability for the profession.

We promote the value of physiotherapy for patients and its potential expansion within the health system in order to influence funders and decision-makers to make the regulatory and legislative changes required.

Policy and advocacy are all about finding opportunities to align our agenda with the agendas of organisations we aim to influence, such as government departments and agencies and health peak bodies.

Our agenda

Our work is proactive when we pursue the APA’s strategic agenda by promoting our vision and positions in our own time, without an external trigger.

Of course, the timing is strategically chosen to maximise the chance of being heard.

Our proactive work can be seen throughout the year in the position statements we release, all of which are available on the APA’s website.

The most recent have been on long COVID and on unregulated allied health assistants.

The flagship of proactive work is the release of a paper such as Future of physiotherapy in Australia—a 10-year vision policy white paper, launched at FOCUS 2022 in September.

In Future of physiotherapy in Australia, we set the tone, selected policy topics aligned with the APA’s strategic agenda and proposed solutions.

The launch of this paper is just the beginning of a broader and longer campaign in which we will promote our strategies for reform.

Always ready

At other times, we respond to an external solicitation to provide feedback.

We don’t set the agenda—when or which topic—but we take the opportunity to pursue our goal.

Our responsive work includes the submissions we contribute when government departments or agencies call for consultation and our participation in steering committees, working groups and workshops.

All of the APA’s public submissions are available on our website.

We don’t always decide whether a submission is public or not; the vast majority of the time the consulting authority does.

Rarely, we may choose not to make our submissions public when they contain sensitive patient information or commercial in confidence material.

Recent examples of public responsive work include a submission to the Australian Government’s Jobs and Skills Summit held in September and APA National President Scott Willis’s opening statement to the Senate Standing Committee on Community Affairs (Legislation Committee) Inquiry into Aged Care Amendment (Implementing Care Reform) Bill 2022.

Sometimes our work is reactive.

We react to what happens in our environment, whether it is the release of a report, a government announcement or a story in the news.

Being reactive doesn’t mean that we improvise.

We have agreed positions that we revisit constantly, based on research and internal engagement.

An example of internal engagement is the quick polls to which members have been invited to respond.

They allow us to be agile, rapidly testing current policy issues with the membership so we can better represent our members’ voices.

Many of these polls are unscheduled and respond to an immediate need.

We will also use them to contribute to the development of new positions or strategies.

Life on the wire

This is where the funambulism kicks in.

Policy and advocacy work is not just alternating responsive and proactive work.

We balance both at any given time, across all portfolios.

The 2022 federal election campaign is possibly one of the best examples of this balancing act.

Since mid-2021, we ‘knew’ that the federal election would most likely be held in May 2022; however, there was a chance that the prime minister at the time, Scott Morrison, would call for an election as early as October 2021.

So we were ready from October, our positions settled and our asks formulated.

By the end of January, the election statement was finalised.

A comprehensive campaign plan was laid out, including a stakeholder engagement plan and a full media and social media strategy.

Media releases, opinion pieces and social media posts were drafted and a tentative publication schedule determined before the election was called.

In an election campaign, candidates decide which issues they want to bring to the front and when.

Let’s say that we had planned to talk about primary care in week 1, the workforce in week 2 and aged care in week 3, but candidates brought up the topics in a different order—aged care first, then primary care, then finally the workforce.

If we had stuck to our schedule, we would have constantly missed the topic of the day and our voice wouldn’t have been heard.

We also have to take into account everything that happens outside the political field.

Between our planning and drafting work and the start of the campaign, monumental floods devastated parts of New South Wales and Queensland, war started in Ukraine and the Omicron strain of COVID-19 decided to stick around, with the worst death toll since the beginning of the pandemic.

What we had planned to say, and how we had planned to say it, had to be reviewed and amended.

The policy window

In the end, it all comes down to the policy window—political planets align, there is political will and community support, financing is not an issue and stakeholders are on board.

When the policy window is open, things can happen.

It can come from a political decision (the government decides to reform aged care) or from external events.

COVID, for example, flung the policy window open to telehealth.

When the policy window opens, it is imperative to immediately focus on the topic at hand.

The most recent example was the Jobs and Skills Summit.

This was an ideal opportunity to push our workforce agenda and promote our workforce solutions.

Remember the quick polls?

The good news is that we don’t have to wait for political will or an external event.

Our job is also to influence the opening of the policy window.

Proactive policy and advocacy campaigns, government relations and stakeholder engagement—all are tools we can use to create the circumstances where our ideas will be heard and our solutions put into practice.

As long as you don’t look down, it’s exhilarating.


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