Baume, Peter Erne

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MB BS 1959 MD 1969 HonLittD (USQ) HonDUniv (ANU) FRACP FAFPHM FRACGP (Hon)

The Hon Emeritus Professor Peter Baume has had a career in medicine, politics and academia, rising to the position of Chancellor of the Australian National University, Canberra. After a series of medical appointments at the Royal North Shore Hospital, Peter went to England as a Smith and Nephew Fellow and worked in the General Hospital Birmingham under W T Cooke. He then studied gastroenterology in London before travelling to Nashville, Tennessee, as a United Sates Public Health Service (USPHS) Fellow and working in gastroenterology. When he returned to the Royal North Shore Hospital in Sydney, he came first as a Roche Research Fellow of the Royal Australasian College of Physicians, later becoming Clinical Medical Supervisor and then an Honorary Assistant Physician. He was in private practice as a gastroenterologist and physician from 1967–74. During this time, he graduated MD from the University of Sydney and was admitted to Fellowship of the Royal Australasian College of Physicians. He held appropriate clinical academic posts at the University of Sydney and was also a visiting part-time Lecturer in physiology.[1] He says of this time:

My first career in medicine was a joy. Those were the days when it was good to be a medical practitioner, when doctors were appreciated and medico legal considerations were not predominant. The patients I saw were interesting people. Their illnesses were challenging, their needs great, their distress real.[1]

His introduction to politics came from the late Don Dobie MP, at that time an Assistant Minister in the McMahon Coalition Government. Don Dobie asked Peter to contribute to the forthcoming Medibank debate. He was then encouraged to stand for Liberal Party selection and, after one unsuccessful attempt, won preselection for a place in the NSW Senate. From 1974 to 1991 he served as a Senator for New South Wales. He was successively Government Deputy-Whip, Government Whip, Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, Minister Assisting the Minister for National Development and Energy, Minister for Health, Minister for Education and a Minister in the Cabinet. He had been Chair of Senate Standing Committees and of Senate Estimates Committees before becoming a Minister in 1980. He remained a member of the Opposition Executive until 1987 before resigning over an issue of principle and was Chairman of Committees from 1987 until his resignation from the Senate in 1991.

Of his time in politics he commented that it was “service to people in a different, more direct way” but that he “never ceased to be a medical practitioner in the Parliament”. Throughout his political career he continued to publish in medical journals.[1]

On leaving politics, Peter became Professor of Community Medicine at the University of New South Wales, a position he held until 2000. He has since held an honorary research position with the Social Policy Research Centre (2001–2005) also at the University of New South Wales, pursuing his research interests in euthanasia, drug policy and evaluation. In 1991 he was made an Honorary Fellow of the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners and a Foundation Fellow of the Faculty of Public Health Medicine of the Royal Australasian College of Physicians. He was appointed as an Officer in the Order of Australia a year later. In 1994, he was elected Chancellor of the Australian National University (an appointment which was renewed in 1997, 2000 and again in 2003) and was made Professor Emeritus by the University of New South Wales in late 1999.

When Peter was awarded an honorary doctorate of the Australian National University in 2004, Vice-Chancellor Ian Chubb presented his colleague as having:made significant contributions to many professional, government and community bodies including as Commissioner of the Australian Law Reform Commission, Deputy Chair of the Australian National Council on AIDS and Foundation Chair of the Australian Sports Drug Agency. He has been outspoken on a number of social justice issues, including reconciliation, and is a Patron of the Voluntary Euthanasia Society of New South Wales and “A Just Australia”, a campaign for just refugee programs…

He has brought to the role of Chancellor the qualities which have typified a career dedicated to community service – integrity, fair-mindedness and outstanding commitment.[1]

In his own reflections on his life and career Peter says:

[S]ome of us are lucky enough to have several quite different careers, so we learn different skills and experience different things… Each of my three careers has demanded the refinement of quite different skills, but I see a theme of service to others running through them all… To me, medicine was pre-eminently about helping people; going into Parliament was simply another way of helping people; and teaching was yet another way… In all my medical teaching and writing I have tried to convey the notion that people are more important than their diseases and that the whole person is the proper focus of medical care…
We are all different and it would be churlish to think all people should value the same kind of life trajectory. But for me, the opportunities and rewards have been great, and the chances to serve, sometimes unexpected, have been ones that I have appreciated…
Now let us see what new tasks lie ahead. There is not a moment to lose.[1]

Citation: Mellor, Lise (2008) Baume, Peter Erne. Faculty of Medicine Online Museum and Archive, University of Sydney.

An alternate version appears in: Mellor, L. 150 Years, 150 Firsts: The People of the Faculty of Medicine (2006) Sydney, Sydney University Press.