Consumer Groups in the Policy Process
Edited by Hans Löfgren, Evelyne de Leeuw and Michael Leahy
Chapter 12: From Activism to State Inclusion: Health Consumer Groups in Australia
Hans Löfgren, Michael Leahy and Evelyne de Leeuw This chapter examines the experiences of Australian consumer groups at the interface with national health policy development. Many community groups concerned with health issues – women’s organizations, disease-oriented patient support groups and older citizens’ organizations – were formed long before their designation as ‘consumer’ groups. Members of health groups founded in the 1960s and 1970s understood themselves as activists for social change, not ‘consumers’ (Short 1998). Influenced by radical and collectivist political ideas, they challenged established models of health care and mobilized to redress inequities of access to care and inequalities of power between the medical profession and the ‘lay’ population. The major campaign in this period was to establish universal health insurance. Community activists played an important role in the achievement of such a scheme under the Whitlam Labor government (1972–75). Following its dismantling by the Fraser government (1975–83), they played a similar role in its restoration as Medicare in 1984. The policy influence of the organized consumer movement peaked in the decade from the mid-1980s, when access to the policy table was provided for the first time under Labor governments federally and in several Australian states. Both peak and disease-oriented health consumer groups were increasingly funded by governments and integrated into mainstream policy processes. These gains, however, came at a price: in exchange for their recognition as legitimate policy actors, consumer groups came under mounting pressure to moderate their activist role to exclude systemic critique. Assured access to the...