January 17, 2020
Mensches, movers and shakers: Dr Kerryn Phelps AM
As part of our Be A Mensch campaign, we are highlighting people within the broader Australian community who are doing good, making a difference, challenging stigmas and promoting inclusivity, respect and kindness.
We sat down with Dr Kerryn Phelps, medical practitioner, public health and civil rights advocate, medical educator, to learn how she continues to strive for change in public policy and her advice for young, emerging leaders.
SJM: What drives you to get up in the morning and channel your work towards creating positive change?
Kerryn: As a doctor I see the impact of government policy on people’s lives at a very fundamental level. In my first speech in Parliament after I was elected, I spoke about the “human experience” of government policies, and how important it is for the actions of governments at all levels, and in fact all community members to consider the ways that your actions can have an impact on others.
SJM: Is there a pivotal moment in your life or career whose impact you are most proud of?
Kerryn: There have been several pivotal moments. Being elected President of the Australian Medical Association and having the opportunity to lead the organisation enabled me to have an influence on health policy at State and Federal level in Australia. Being in the forefront of the marriage equality battle from the outset was also an opportunity to influence that important social justice issue. In my work as a GP, it is a privilege to be able to help individual patients with their health, and provides a unique insight into the workings, strengths and weaknesses in the health system and community services.
When I was unexpectedly elected to the Federal Parliament in the Wentworth by-election, I was in a unique position to negotiate legislation to change the system for medical treatment of refugees in offshore detention. This resulted in the Medevac legislation. This highlighted the profound injustice of Australia’s policy and treatment of refugees. Hundreds of people were rescued before the legislation was repealed.
SJM: What is your advice to the next generation of leaders and world changers?
Kerryn: Observe the world around you and keep yourself informed. Find your true North and let that be your guide. Don’t let your age, gender, race, background or religion be a barrier to speaking up and aspiring to leadership.