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- Issue 81: April 2009
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Have You met Nicola Louise Roxon?

Neil Johnston
Management Consultant Perspective

Issue 78: December 2008
Page: 1 of 1 Author's Profile | Send to a Friend | Printer Version
After a little over 12 months in power, the Rudd Labour government has now had sufficient time to demonstrate the conversion of pre-election promises into substantial policy and programs.
Because there is potential for major and beneficial changes to occur within Australia, particularly in health, it was thought appropriate to begin a scorecard to plot development and change as applicable to pharmacy.
The young women who, as Minister for Health and Ageing, heads up a high profile, big budget and daunting and controversial portfolio, is a high achiever. But it has to be said that very little has been known about her in pharmacy, as a person and as a politician.
A quick scan of most of the pharmacy media reveals scarce detail of the background and calibre of the person who holds the destiny of all the health professions within her department, including that of pharmacy.
Other media have snippets of information obtained through formal interviews but she is relatively unknown at the coalface of pharmacy.
We know through recent pharmacy media that her mother, Lesley Roxon, is a pharmacist and that she attended the Pharmacy Guild of Australia’s recent annual dinner at which Nicola was the guest speaker, as the Minister for Health and Ageing.
Does pharmacy have a clear road map to follow since the delivery of her address?
Well, for the moment, that remains a good question.
And to understand where Nicola Roxon will take pharmacy, it is necessary to have a look at what life experiences (family, education, career path etc) have formed Nicola’s attitudes and values.

Nicola’s story really begins in the late 1920’s when Nicola’s Jewish paternal grandparents (Izydor and Rosa Ropschitz) moved from Lwow (Ukraine) to Poland and then on to Alassio, in Italy.
The move to Italy was because Izydor was prevented from studying medicine in Poland because of the discrimination against Jews.
As a graduate of the University of Padua, he was able to build a thriving practice in Alassio.
When Hitler and Mussolini signed their infamous Axis Pact, the family then fled to England, in September 1938 en route to Australia.
The family arrived in Melbourne on the 13th August 1940, later settling in Brisbane, where Izydor established himself as a GP (he was registered on the 14th November, 1940) working first in Gympie and then Brisbane.
Around that time the Ropschitz family changed their name by deed poll to Roxon (although Izydor later changed back again to Roxon-Ropschitz).
Christian names were anglicised to Isadore and Rose.
Their children became known as Milo (originally Emanuele), Lillian (originally Liliana) and Jack (originally Jacob).
It was Lillian who suggested the name change to Roxon.

Lillian became famous as a journalist and author and for her feminist views, and died from asthma in New York in 1973, aged 41.
Younger brother Jack set up the Lillian Roxon Memorial Asthma Research Trust in Melbourne in 1973 to assist Australian researchers to study overseas.
Lillian, and later Jack, had their final resting place at the Dawson River Lawn Cemetery (near Taree), that is a beautiful part of NSW
Coincidentally, my father also resides there as well.

When Jack met his future wife Lesley, they were to produce three daughters, including second born Nicola Louise Roxon who appeared on April 1, 1967.
Jack originally began training as a GP, but because of a shortage of financial resources after his father’s death in 1956, switched to pharmacy.
Lesley had also trained as a pharmacist.
On completing his pharmacy course Jack decided to further train as a research microbiologist at La Trobe University in Victoria. Part of his research involved the study of koalas and the protective effect of eucalyptus in preventing cancer and other diseases in this particular animal.
The family moved to England so that Jack had greater opportunities for his research, but tragedy was to strike the family – Jack was diagnosed with oesophageal cancer within a few months of their arrival and died shortly afterwards.
Nicola was 10 years old at the time and Jack had been a strong influence in her life.
Naturally, she was devastated.
The family returned home to Australia where Lesley resumed her pharmacy career part-time to augment family finances, which had become suddenly scarce.
Nicola and her older sister Sally had to pitch in and help care for their newborn sister, Annabelle.
Nicola also helped in the pharmacy with her mother and it is stated that her duties included the packing of Webster Dose Administration Aids.
The family lived in the Melbourne suburbs of Lower Templestowe and

Hawthorne and Nicola attended Lower Templestowe and Botanic Park primary schools.
She won a scholarship to attend the Methodist Ladies College (MLC).
MLC was “founded in 1882 as a 'modern school of the first order' with buildings that formed ‘a collegiate institution for girls unsurpassed in the colonies’.”
MLC has always been an innovative school with an international focus and proudly promotes that in 1990, became the first school in the world to introduce laptop computers for all students from Year 5 – 12.
Nicola would have been the recipient of a laptop and no doubt put it to good use.

Nicola also formed a strong network of friends that has survived more than 25 years, that included Mary Wooldridge (sister to Michael who was a previous coalition Minister for Health & Ageing) and GP Dr Cathy Leembruggen who is quoted as saying:
“Nicola is the sort of person who will put a lot of effort into researching an area and listening to a lot of people to form policy”.

After MLC, Nicola studied arts/law at the
University of Melbourne and won the Supreme Court prize for the top law
student, and from there applied to be an associate of Mary Gaudron, a High Court justice.
She was successful in her application in 1992 and stayed until 1994.
In her initial interview Mary Gaudron distinctly remembers Nicola presenting in her Doc Martin shoes and the fact that she was so much like her aunt Lillian (a personal friend), that Gaudron closed the interview by confusing her name and called her Lilian.
”There was a fair bit of Lillian in Nicola, “ Gaudron said.
“When all the other (judge’s) associates were all going off to the Bar or to Oxford or Cambridge or to a big commercial company, Nicola went off to work for a trade union.”

”People just didn’t do that sort of thing.”
An important observation made by Mary Gaudron was that Nicola Roxon was not swayed by whatever anyone else was doing and that she was totally down-to-earth and straightforward.
Another observation concerned handwriting – “clear, bold strokes” – indicating a person who wasn’t afraid to argue (even with a High Court judge) and whose comments “were always direct and to the point”.
”I could never get it out of my head she was in many respects just as dogged as Lillian”.

So I guess that Mary Gaudron’s comments would be the most relevant for anyone for anyone having to deal with her in a current ministerial capacity i.e. be well prepared and researched for any presentation, accept that she means what she says, and that she is someone who will not tolerate condescension or manipulation.

After her associateship, Nicola went to work as a union organiser for the National Union of Workers. During this time she formed a live-in relationship with the union’s national secretary, Bill Shorten, and became more politically active. Shorten was the spokesman during the Beaconsfield mine disaster and is a rising star in Labor leadership ranks.

Shorten is currently federal Member for Maribyrnong and went on to marry Deborah Beale, daughter of Julian Beale a former federal Liberal MP, wealthy Melbourne investor, and a powerful political asset for Shorten.
But there’s more – Shorten has now left his wife for the daughter of the Rudd-appointed Governor-General, Quentin Bryce.
On the surface, Shorten has maintained remarkably polite and friendly contact with all of his partners, including Nicola, who is understood to speak highly of her now parliamentary colleague.

In 1996 Nicola went to work as an industrial lawyer for Maurice Blackburn and Co shortly before the waterfront dispute with Patrick Stevedores.
Nicola began challenging injunctions aimed at preventing workers and members of the public from joining dockside picket lines.

Her boss at that time, John Cain (son and grandson of former Labor premiers) said that her battle with corporate giants such as Patricks revealed Nicola’s “tough streak” particularly when they tried to “beat her up” with well-resourced legal teams. She refused to scare and deftly dealt with a range of “pompous types” in the High Court.

In 1998 Nicola stood for election as member for Gellibrand and was backed by John Cain. She was successful and used her maiden speech in parliament to call for more female judges and company directors.

In 2001 she was appointed as opposition spokeswoman for Children and Youth.

In 2003 she was appointed opposition spokeswoman for Population and Immigration and later, was appointed Shadow Attorney-General, a position she filled until 2006.
As Shadow Attorney-General she lobbied hard for the release of David Hicks from Guantanamo Bay, and in 2005 in partnership with Greg Combet (ACTU secretary) launched a High Court challenge to the Federal Government’s use of taxpayer money on advertisements to promote its new industrial laws.
Nicola noted that in her time as an industrial lawyer, she often saw workers who had been subjected to harassment “that bordered on the criminal” and being further damaged by the legal system. She contrasted this with her earlier experience as a union organiser, where she was often able to intervene early before a crisis occurred, prevention being better than a cure.
On the 10th December 2006 Nicola was appointed to the health portfolio after three years as Shadow Attorney-General.
She commented at the time that her background in industrial law also provided some insight into health issues and reinforced her belief that prevention is better than cure.
In December 2006 she became Minister for Health and Ageing.

The issues she campaigned for prior to, and during the election were:

* Health promotion and preventive health, especially for children.

* Indigenous Health

* Workforce shortages

* The federal-state health divide

* Dental care

And because Nicola is also a “working mum” she had to juggle the nations’ health priorities and balance her personal life to fill the role of mother to Rebecca and partner to Michael Kerrisk, a well-known Labor staffer.
Understandably, it’s all hands to the deck as Rebecca’s care is shared with Michael, Nicola’s sisters and her mother, Lesley.
Not so long ago, Lesley took an issue into her own hands, as reported by Reuters News Agency on Thursday, January 24 2007.

“Australia's Labour Prime Minister Kevin Rudd promoted family values on his way to winning office in November, but now the mother of his health minister is pleading with him to give her daughter time off to get married.
"I just need to tell you Nicola will need two weeks off some time this year if she is ever going to get married," Roxon's mother Lesley told Rudd at a ministerial swearing-in, local newspapers said on Thursday.
On winning office for Labour, after a decade of conservative rule, Rudd ordered his team back to work the next day.
Health Minister Nicola Roxon, a rising star for centre-left Labour, wants to marry her long-time partner, with whom she has a two-year-old daughter.
But reform of Australia's health system is a major priority for the new Rudd government and Roxon is caught in negotiations on a A$50 billion health agreement with Australia's six states, due for completion mid-year.
Rudd reportedly told Roxon’s mother that his minister "should be able to get a weekend off" to tie the knot.”

Well we can report that time off eventually happened, because the following item appeared in an online blog for a Bali accommodation complex.

Michael Kerrisk said...

We all had a great time and The Sunset Suite was everything we hoped for. Rebecca (three and a half) had lots of space and her own room (very grown up!!) and fell in love with the pools. And yes, the DVD player plays Australian DVDs, so the Bananas in PJs got a good workout.
Nona and Ketut were both very helpful and friendly and everything on that front went very smoothly.
We followed up a number of your restaurant recommendations. We just loved La Lucciola for the perfect Bali experience fabulous food, great vistas and a short walk home). If you could arrange for it to be relocated in Melbourne, we would be grateful!!!
So all and all we had a great time and were very sad to leave and return to reality.
Your help in booking the holiday and all the other information you provided was very much appreciated. We would have no hesitation in recommending The Sunset Suite to our friends as a great place to stay in Bali.

Again, many thanks indeed.

Michael, Nicola and Rebecca

The promotion blurb for the Sunset suite states:

”By combining the privacy and exclusivity of a sub penthouse villa with the facilities of a boutique hotel, we believe that The Sunset Suite @ Bali Mystique is unique in Bali. A secluded and elevated spot with large open terraces, double sun lounges and colourful umbrellas, where you can sip champagne and be cooled by wafting ocean breezes in peace and privacy.
The Sunset Suite @ Bali Mystique offers several advantages when compared to a Bali hotel suite or luxury Bali villa - space, security and total privacy.”

I am sure that Nicola earned her well-deserved break, but perhaps marriage may occur on the next holiday.
There was no date on the Sunset blog, but the age of Rebecca is noted at 3.5 years, about 18 months after the Reuter’s news story.
That would approximate the holiday date to July 2008.

Well, what is contained in this article has been researched from information publicly available on the Internet.
I have attempted to go behind the public face of the ministerial position as a guide as to what the profession of pharmacy may expect.
My summary is as follows:

* Nicola appears to be a very normal and stable personality with strong family values, and is direct, straightforward and honest in her professional life.

* Nicola will endeavour to broaden the concept of health from illness treatment to illness prevention. She is well documented in many statements that “prevention is better than cure”.

* Pharmacy will be included within primary health care (something that other professions have tried to restrict), and the role pharmacy already plays in self-care will be recognised. I am sure that funds will be made available for the extension of self-care, work that has always been unpaid work performed by pharmacists.

* Nicola, however, needs to understand exactly what depth pharmacists have provided primary care, almost in a secretive fashion, because of constant harassment by doctors. While there is a surface cooperation between doctors and pharmacists, it is really only lip service.
The removal of this harassment would allow pharmacists to thrive as well as the general public.

* Nicola also needs to understand that while pharmacy owners provide infrastructure to provide medicine distribution, the pressure of this infrastructure works against the development of clinical services.
For this role she needs to recognise pharmacists individually as health practitioners and separate their income from the PBS model.
By providing incentives to individual pharmacist practitioners, development ideas and capital would flow in from these people and pharmacy owners would form beneficial relationships to harness benefit for the supply side of their businesses.

* From the recent address given at the Pharmacy Guild of Australia annual dinner, Nicola said, in part:
“The examples of existing Professional Programs and Services confirm the pharmacist’s role within the primary healthcare team.
There may still be some debate about the borders of that role – but the direction is already well and truly established.
I want to be clear here – and I suspect my earlier comments have already given this away – any expanded role for pharmacists will take an incremental approach, and will be dictated by the need for safety and quality in health care.”

In other words, she will do what she has always done – carefully plan and test any program before it becomes policy.

I judge Nicola Roxon has the capacity to become an outstanding Minister in the health portfolio. Her inherent caution allows for less pain in the event of mistakes being made in policy and in implementation.
She is intelligent, a high achiever and a quick learner.
Keeping the focus on the patient and not on the selfish interests of each health profession will ensure the best of outcomes.
There will be obviously some mistakes made, and in the case of pharmacy I hopes she applies appropriate discretion to pharmacy owners and pharmacist practitioners, the latter being the “silent 65%” for the moment.

And as for taking tough decisions, you only have to look in on current PBS negotiations with drug manufacturers as they gear up for a round of talks that must inevitably lead to price reductions for some of the more expensive PBS items.

To read Nicola Roxon's address at the Pharmacy Guild annual dinner, please click on this link.

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