Sophie Scamps’ first year as the new doctor in the House

Jolyon Attwooll

16/06/2023 3:52:52 PM

The former GP was elected to Federal Parliament in May 2022. A little more than 12 months on, how is she finding the role?

Dr Sophie Scamps
Dr Sophie Scamps has gone from being a community GP to a member of Parliament. (Image: AAP)

Less than three hours after polls closed for the Federal Election on 21 May last year, Dr Sophie Scamps had been confirmed as the new MP for Mackellar.
The election of the former community GP was an early sign of what many would view as a seismic shift in the Federal political landscape.
Not only was there a change in Government, but voters in Mackellar had backed a candidate in the high-profile ‘teal’ wave (‘community independents’ is the more accurate term, Dr Scamps says).
Mostly women, all had a focus on climate change concerns, and many were backed financially by Simon Holmes à Court’s Climate 200 group.
In her first speech to Parliament last August, Dr Scamps addressed that sense of change, calling the election a ‘watershed moment’ and ‘an unprecedented wave of grassroots democracy’.
Now, with more than a year of working in Parliament – time for the reality of the machinations of political life to sink in – is her view the same?
The former GP tells newsGP that not only does she believe it still holds true, but that the change in ballot box behaviour has rippled through the atmosphere in Canberra.
She says many Parliamentary veterans have told her of their sense of a cultural shift; that the corridors of power have also somehow altered with the arrival of the largest lower house crossbench in history.
‘I get a lot of comments from people who’ve been in Parliament for a long time who say … there seems like there’s a completely different culture now with the larger crossbench and a different focus,’ she said.
‘I think it has really changed … that feeling inside Parliament House. It’s a lot more collaborative and constructive.’
To be part of that change, Dr Scamps first had to woo voters in a seat that had voted Liberal for 73 years, which she did emphatically – Mackellar’s swing of 15.7% was the biggest away from incumbency of all the newly elected independents.
Now Dr Scamps views a key part of her role as holding the Government to account and working in the background with other crossbench members to come up with constructive solutions, if needed.
‘I think the Government has responded really well, they do try and keep their door open,’ she said.
Dr Scamps believes the crossbench has influenced a number of high-profile issues, including the national anti-corruption commission, the climate target, and more recently the safeguard mechanism to reduce industrial emissions.
‘There was a lot of talking and negotiating going on,’ she said. ‘And where there was a bit of an impasse at some point between the Labor Party and the Greens party, I and others on the crossbench were able to step into that … and get things moving forwards again by bringing good ideas to solutions on the way forward.’
For Dr Scamps, another important role is contributing to the national conversation in a way she believes would be constrained within the two major parties.
‘The connection to your communities is a lot more direct, you don’t have the party intervening,’ she said.
‘I do think the power of an independent is having the freedom to speak up directly on issues that are impacting and important to the people who live in your electorate.
‘It takes out the middleman. There’s just not that factional infighting.
‘It really is a far more simple and direct form of representation without the party, and it’s my community who will hold me to account.’

General practice advocacy
While Dr Scamps’ clinical days are on hold, the GP connection remains strong. As well as agreeing to co-chair the new Parliamentary Friends of General Practice – an RACGP initiative – she has spoken directly about general practice issues in Parliament House several times.
With the notable backing of Professor Monique Ryan – another clinical crossbencher – she has drawn attention to the challenges facing general practice and called for more help in getting new GPs into the system.
She says she has relished that chance to advocate directly for her old profession.
‘It’s been wonderful, particularly as general practice has been so neglected for so long with the Medicare rebate freeze and for other reasons,’ she said.
‘It’s been wonderful not only to be Co-Chair of the Parliamentary Friends of General Practice, but also talk with life experience to the health ministers and others about why primary healthcare is so important, and to try and bring the focus back on primary healthcare and prevention.’
Dr Scamps recognises some progress for her old colleagues in last month’s Budget.
‘The fact that the Government has acknowledged that general practice was in crisis is a really good first step,’ she said.
‘There have been some measures to improve, but we still have a long way ahead of us to go before general practice is valued in the way that it should be.
‘That is really being able to provide that whole-person care, help people to live healthy lives and keep people out of hospitals.
‘It’s the most common sense, best way to look after people.’
Describing the increase in bulk billing incentives as ‘a start’, Dr Scamps also believes rebates need to increase further to bridge the disparity between general practice and what professionals can earn in different specialties.
While her work is now removed from the consulting room, she still feels well placed to have a positive influence on healthcare.
As well as the climate change concerns that propelled her bid for election, Dr Scamps has a long list of other health-related issues she is hoping to influence, such as a private members bill to ban junk food advertising to children.
Other topics she mentions are the influence of poverty on health, the importance of preventing chronic disease, women’s health issues, eating disorders, and gambling as a health issue.
Dr Scamps’ influence on healthcare may be playing out in an unexpected way, but she remains unequivocally positive about general practice as a career.
‘I absolutely loved my job as a GP,’ she said. ‘It was such a privilege and I found it really hard to make the decision to step aside.’
Despite the challenges, Dr Scamps says she would not hesitate to encourage medical graduates to follow the same path.
‘I would say do it, because it’s the most rewarding role and it was just the most special thing to be able to build those relationships and the most enormous privilege that people would let you into not just their health problems, but often their entire lives,’ she said.
So, does Dr Scamps ever see herself returning to her old GP work in the Northern Beaches?
‘I haven’t really had a lot of time to think about it,’ she said. ‘There’s so much to be done.’
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Dr Helena Andrea Smetana   17/06/2023 10:25:35 AM

Dear Dr.Scamps, thank you for all your amazing work- the listening, the integrity you bring to parliament is incredibly important and so inspiring to watch. I was moved by your inspiring speech and am so grateful to have voices and wisdom such as yours representing the community in government. Thank you.

Dr Simon Holliday   17/06/2023 11:35:18 AM

The Hon Dr Scamps MP should be congratulated challenging the usual Punch and Judy show on offer in Canberra. I was particularly impressed that she hosted a tax summit. For most pollies, tax is the Voltemort of policy: the unspeakable other. But making revenue more socially and environmentally friendly, as well as sustainable, must have a policy focus as equal as the spending of it.