A tax on sugary drinks to reduce obesity is ‘inevitable’, the outgoing Australian Medical Association president says.

In his final speech before leaving the top job, Dr Michael Gannon said he expected to see an Australian tax similar to those recently introduced in Britain and Ireland.

‘I think that it is inevitable that we will eventually see a tax on sugar-sweetened beverages,’ Dr Gannon told the AMA national conference on Friday.

‘In fact it is so simple, and so obvious, I worry that it will be seen by a future government as a ‘silver bullet’ to what is a much more complex health and social policy issue.’

His argument won support from Greens leader Richard Di Natale, who said it should be considered as one of a range of health measures.


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‘There is no doubt that the weight of evidence is that a tax on sugary sweetened drinks will have an impact on the consumption and on obesity,’ Senator Di Natale told reporters.

But the former doctor also had a crack at Dr Gannon’s track record as AMA president on refugees and climate change.

‘There’s an opportunity for a new president to reset the direction of the AMA,’ Senator Di Natale said.

‘To make sure it once again becomes a champion for those innocent people languishing in detention.’

The pair also disagreed on private health care, with Senator Di Natale pushing for a stronger focus on public health.

‘The critics of private medicine are either deluded or wilfully misleading,’ Dr Gannon said.

‘They are wrong and the private hospital system must remain a key part of universal healthcare in Australia.’

Health Minister Greg Hunt used the conference to announce an $8 million effort to crack down on HLTV-1 infections in indigenous communities.

The blood-borne virus can rapidly cause leukaemia and other diseases, and is found in indigenous communities at higher rates than the general population.

Opposition health spokeswoman Catherine King said the government had cut substantial funding out of sexual health clinics for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders.

Mr Hunt also promised doctors medical indemnity insurance reforms to protect independent medical practices.

‘We will legislate over the coming months to ensure universal coverage and a level playing field,’ Mr Hunt told the conference.