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Richard Lindsay and Jessica Chi

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By Patrick Hutchens

Richard Lindsay and Jessica Chi know that lobbying their local MP face to face can get results. 

With the launch of a new advocacy campaign, ‘Eye care for all: fairer and smarter Medicare for optometry’, Optometry Australia is asking members to write to their local Member of Parliament, to explain how the cut to the optometric rebate is likely to affect patients.

During Optometry Australia’s successful campaign in 2013 to remove the Medicare fee cap on optometry, Melbourne optometrists Richard Lindsay and Jessica Chi were among the many optometrists who wrote letters to and arranged meetings with MPs.

They found that lobbying face to face at a local level can get results.

They used the organisation’s letter-writing resources to send targeted messages to policymakers about how the restrictions on Medicare billing were testing the sustainability of the optometry profession.

Later, in a 20-minute discussion with Victorian Labor Party Senator Gavin Marshall in his Melbourne office, they emphasised the financial strain the fee cap was placing on optometrists throughout the country.

Mr Lindsay and Ms Chi talked about how much optometrists usually make financially from a consultation with a patient, and the investment costs of fitting out a practice, buying or leasing equipment and paying for staff.

By the end of the meeting, they felt that Senator Marshall was receptive to the cause of removing the fee cap, but because the 2013 federal election was due to be held soon, they judged that he was unlikely to be able to directly influence a policy change.

The cumulative effect of optometrists meeting with politicians and writing letters across federal electorates helped to raise awareness of how the fee cap was impacting the provision of optometric services.

Mr Lindsay recalled that in 1993, Optometrists Association Australia launched a short and highly-effective campaign to maintain optometry on the Medicare Benefits Schedule, when the Labor Australian Government indicated its intention to have optometry removed.

The campaign harnessed the powerful voices of not just optometrists but also concerned and outspoken members of the public.

‘We never took the government on, we never said: “We’re going to break you on this one.” We just said that we want you to understand that this is the wrong decision and we want you to understand why,’ Mr Lindsay said.

It is this non-confrontational, educational form of advocacy that Optometry Australia plans to deploy in its campaign to ensure fairer access to optometry for disadvantaged members of the community.

Mr Lindsay says that the most effective tactic in meeting with politicians is to reiterate key messages, and use examples to illustrate and emphasise those messages.

‘You just repeat your message and you say it again and again and again,’ he said.

Another piece of advice that Mr Lindsay offers optometrists who are interested in lobbying to support the ‘Eye care for all’ access campaign is to not make appeals based on self-interest.

‘You’ve always got to promote what’s best for the public. As soon as self-interest is perceived, politicians lose interest,’ he said.

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