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After the New South Wales election, some expert advice for the new Government

The new Labor Government in New South Wales faces calls to step up its climate ambitions, and to address Aboriginal health, rural health, wider health workforce issues and gambling harms, reports Alison Barrett.


Alison Barrett writes:

New Labor Premier Chris Minns and his interim ministry including Health Minister Ryan Park have been sworn in as vote-counting continues amid the possibility of a minority government.

Addressing healthcare will be one of the new Government’s priorities, who will reportedly begin drafting terms of reference for a Royal Commission into NSW’s health services in the coming weeks, according to the Sydney Morning Herald.

“NSW has voted for a fresh start for NSW, and to put people at the heart of government – to invest in the human capital that runs our essential services,” Minns said in a statement.

“There’s not a moment to lose in delivering on our plans, particularly for essential workers and essential services in health and education.”

A Croakey survey of health leaders suggests the new Government has its work cut out to improve conditions for healthcare staff, the struggling healthcare system and ultimately, the health and wellbeing of the people of New South Wales.

Health leaders called for significant and targeted commitment to improving the health and wellbeing of Aboriginal people, including strengthening the Aboriginal health workforce, implementation of the Closing the Gap framework and mental health strategy, while centring Aboriginal people in decisions.

“It is critical that Aboriginal people are at the forefront of the new Government’s policy efforts, this will ensure a collaborative approach to achieving health equity for Aboriginal people,” the Aboriginal Health & Medical Research Council (AH&MRC) told Croakey.

Acknowledging a relatively silent election campaign on issues that matter for people with disability, writer and advocate El Gibbs calls for the new Government to address basic accessibility options for housing, as well as justice reform.

Experts also called for real action on climate change and to take priority, including the immediate cessation of new fossil fuel projects and the introduction of cashless gambling card.

Now that all mainland states and territories have a Labor government, there is some optimism about the possibilities this creates for meaningful reform. However, according to the experience of former public servant Charles Maskell-Knight, this may not affect “the prospects of national health reform”.

Additionally, as CEO of Healthy Communities Foundation Australia Mark Burdack and CEO of Consumers Health Australia Dr Elizabeth Deveny point out, people generally do not care which government pays for which service, as long as they can access coordinated healthcare when they need it.

Regardless, many of the leaders called for state and federal government collaboration to tackle big health issues in NSW and across the country now.

Aboriginal people at the forefront

Policy Team, Aboriginal Health and Medical Research Council

The AH&MRC congratulates the Labor Government on their election victory and are committed to work with them to improve health outcomes for Aboriginal communities. ALP has made several commitments to a ‘Fresh Start Plan’ for healthcare, which will include strengthening rural and regional areas with 500 new paramedics and workforce incentives for rural and regional GPs to support the engagement of nurses, allied health, and other health professionals.

Whilst the AH&MRC applauds the Labor Government’s commitment to a Fresh Start Plan for healthcare, we believe there needs to be a targeted commitment to improving the health and wellbeing of Aboriginal people.

Aboriginal Community-Controlled Health Organisations (ACCHOs) across the country have continued to deliver high-quality integrated primary health care to Aboriginal communities despite the ongoing challenges they face. As the preferred primary healthcare provider for Aboriginal people, it is crucial that the new Government prioritise strengthening the Aboriginal health workforce and more broadly, the ACCHO sector in their rollout of the Fresh Start Plan for healthcare.

It is critical that Aboriginal people are at the forefront of the new Government’s policy efforts, this will ensure a collaborative approach to achieving health equity for Aboriginal people.

The AH&MRC is committed to working in genuine partnership with the Labor Government to develop policies and programs that will improve health outcomes for Aboriginal communities.

AH&MRC post-election media release.

Prioritise Closing the Gap

Professor Megan Williams, Wiradjuri, Head of Girra Maa Indigenous Health Discipline, Graduate School of Health, University of Technology Sydney; Chair of Croakey Health Media

The Labor Party should keep an eye on the Bathurst electorate, which has increased its National Party hold yet again. Labor needs to keep the Nationals accountable, be firm in bending to them and not believe the narrative that the Nationals are for people in the Country. There’s a big population of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in the Bathurst Nationals electorate; will there be unity or blocks to achieving self-determination, equity in social and health outcomes?

Labor should prioritise for action implementation of the Closing the Gap framework and other commitments like the Aboriginal Mental Health and Wellbeing Strategy 2020-25. The mental health strategy includes commitments to holistic healthcare, partnerships and other foundational activities that will improve many areas of life for all of NSW.

Accessible housing and justice reform

El Gibbs, award-winning writer and disability advocate

The election of the new Labor Government means it is time to take urgent action to make sure disabled people are equal.

Their first move must be to adopt basic accessibility measures for new housing, so disabled people can find a home. Disabled people who aren’t eligible for the NDIS have no support, nothing, in NSW, and this is hugely harmful and damaging. Fixing this gap across all our public services is essential and long overdue.

Policies of the previous Government meant that too many disabled people are ending up in prison. The new Government needs to work with justice reform initiatives, led by First Nations people, to stop disabled people being put in jail.

Read Gibbs’ pre-election article here.

Significant action on gambling reform

Carol Bennett, CEO for Alliance for Gambling Reform

The incoming Minns Government (and it’s not yet clear whether it will have a majority) have a mandate for change in many critical policy areas, but they should not assume business as usual or fiddling around the edges on gambling reform is in their electoral interests or in the interests of the people of NSW who they have been elected to serve.

Many MPs now know that supporting meaningful gambling reform can be an election winner. Many of the candidates who stood on a platform of gambling reform increased their winning margins significantly.

While the ALP proposed a trial of cashless gambling on 500 of the state’s 90,000 poker machines, it doesn’t mean that they will be able to delay the need for sweeping gambling reform in NSW – especially with the independents Alex Grenwich, Greg Piper, Joe McGirr and Helen Dalton determined to keep gambling reform high on the priority list in their negotiations with government.

Serving NSW well means taking real action to reduce the unacceptably high toll gambling is taking on individuals, families, communities and workplaces right across NSW.

At the very least, given the results in this election, we expect the cashless gambling card will continue to be strongly pushed in both the lower and upper houses of the NSW Parliament.

With NSW the centre of Australia’s title as the world’s biggest gambling losers by more than 40 percent on poker machines than any country in the world, much more needs to be done to reduce the level of gambling harm.

See Bennett’s pre-election article here.

Active partnership in climate and health

Roland Sapsford, CEO of Climate and Health Alliance

Sapsford said he looked forward to continuing leadership on climate and health from the new Labor Government.

The previous NSW Government actively supported climate and health action. The new Government has a great opportunity to build on this work and show real leadership at a state level. Many health districts and health institutions in NSW are members of the Global Green and Healthy Hospitals network.

Action is underway at the local level across NSW, and we have every reason to believe this will be strengthened and continued under the new Government.

Action on climate and health is an urgent issue that goes beyond party politics. We look forward to working with the new Government on a science-based approach to creating a resilient, sustainable and low-emissions health system in NSW, and look forward to the new Government being an active partner in developing and implementing an ambitious national health and climate strategy.

Disappointing climate campaign

Dr Nick Williams, Doctors for the Environment Australia NSW Co-Chair

Despite the climate and health crisis we are currently facing, it was disappointing to see that climate action policy was not a prominent component of the NSW election campaign.

It seems that the newly-elected State Labor Government will adopt a “business as usual” approach (50 percent reduction in carbon emissions on 2005 levels by 2030 and net zero by 2050), and miss an opportunity to build upon the work by the Liberal Party’s Matt Kean to create a more ambitious climate change policy that aligns with the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report to limit global warming to 1.5°C.

What is required are deep emissions cuts and a rapid phase out of fossil fuels, such as coal, gas and oil. Instead, as early as election night – in response to questions from David Speers and Sarah Ferguson during the ABC election coverage – the new Minister for the Environment and Heritage Penny Sharpe spoke of plans to approve projects such as the Narrabri Gas Project and reconsider the planned closure of coal-fired power plants.

Failure to achieve greater carbon emission reductions, including the approval of new coal and gas projects, will inevitably mean we will exceed 1.5°C global warming and will subsequently experience further healthcare associated consequences including increased hospital presentations, mental illness and deaths attributable to climate change.

Advice for the incoming Government on climate and health: Listen to the scientists and health organisations and act now!

We urge not only the incoming Minns’ Labor Government, but all sides of government, to recognise climate change as the greatest threat to health we face, and to develop economic and regulatory policy to support deep emissions reductions.

We encourage the Minns’ Government to put aside politics and work with the Greens, Independents and Opposition to develop a bipartisan climate action plan that meets, if not exceeds, the requirements detailed in the IPCC report.

Insufficient action will lead to a temperature rise above 2°C, with catastrophic impacts on human health along with the environment and the economy. The vulnerable will be most affected, the young, elderly, the poor and those with health problems. The need for ambitious action is urgent, in this term of government.

Respect the evidence on climate change

Dr Patrick Harris, Director of the Centre for Health Equity Training, Research and Evaluation at UNSW, and Rachel Rowe, PhD candidate at UNSW School of Population Health and PHAA NSW branch committee member

What does the election of the Labor Party mean for climate action in NSW? 

Unclear – it is too early to tell whether Labor will prioritise climate action. Particu