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Experts highlight key differences between the political parties on critical health concerns

Important health issues in the federal election campaign include self-determination for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, and addressing poverty and climate change, especially for rural and regional communities.

That is according to some of the participants in the recent #AusVotesHealth Twitter festival, which put the national spotlight on under-reported health concerns ahead of the Federal election (see our previous stories from the festival here).

Participants also outlined some clear differences between the Labor and Liberal policies for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, and for health equity. The report below follows the order of the Twitter festival program.


Addressing Poverty

Lou Walsh is a PhD student at the Centre for Health Communication and Participation at LaTrobe University.

In Australia, ACOSS, UNSW and a range of partners track income and wealth inequality. The latest report showed plateauing income inequality but increases in wealth inequality.


“Disposable income” just means after tax income – it’s not ‘spare cash’ or ‘play money’. So less disposable income means proportionally more is spent on daily essentials, and there is less for emergencies, unexpected costs and non-essentials.

What does this mean for health outcomes? This article from The Conversation illustrates that people with lower SES experience higher rates of chronic disease and more risk factors. The wealthier you are, the healthier you are.

And the excellent #FairGO series from The Guardian Australia shows the people behind the statistics, with many of the stories demonstrating that illness and disability hand in hand with poverty.

People with lower income often don’t just have less money, they often also have less leisure time due to the demands of working longer hours (often multiple jobs), having longer commutes, dealing with welfare bureaucratic demands.

Less money and less time leads to worse health outcomes because of a reduced ability to do undertake many protective health behaviours, higher risk of being in unhealthy environments, and increased physical, mental and emotional demands of poverty.

People with lower wealth are at risk of ill health because they don’t have a safety net if things go wrong. They are also more likely to be living in rental housing, which can be insecure

This article from The Conversation shows how easily it is for people on low incomes – particularly those reliant on Centrelink payments – to slip into a debt they cannot repay, and how that impacts health and wellbeing.

You can read all about the impacts (including the positive economic impacts) of raising the Newstart rate in this analysis by Deloitte Access Economics from ACOSS.

Australian Labor is seeking to reducing wage disparities and increase job security, which could decrease income equality. Negative gearing, capital gains tax, dividend imputation reform could help decrease wealth inequality.

The Australian Labor focus on education and pathways to work is a tick for reducing health disparities if these education opportunities lead to quality employment that is stable and secure.

From my reading, what is missing from Australian Labor is a strong commitment to raising the rate of Newstart, a review of Centrelink to improve access, and a review of the income tax system which seeks to reduce disparities between rich and poor.

The Liberal Party policies focus strongly on job creation and pathways to employment. Work is good for health, but only if it is quality work, and the issues of growing wage disparities are addressed.

Tax reform to reduce income inequality is missing from the Liberal Party policies. Also, policies similar to the Liberal policies of Work for the Dole and Cashless Welfare Cards, are criticised in the Marmot Review as being detrimental to health.

Missing from the Liberal policies are clear plans for reducing income and wealth disparity, and also no mention of increasing the rate of Newstart.

The Greens policies around education, housing, and industrial relations are good for health and reducing income and wealth disparities.

Importantly, The Greens are the only major party to have committed to the recommended $75 per payment rise in the Newstart and Youth Allowance and bringing back the Parenting Payment Single.

While The Greens do plan to reverse tax cuts to high income earners, a more comprehensive income tax reform plan to address equity across all levels of earning is missing from their policies.

If addressing health disparities through addressing income and wealth inequality is important to you, then join in the #RaiseTheRate campaign from ACOSS.

You can also write to your local candidates outlining how addressing poverty can reduce health disparities (and be good for the economy!), and why this is a vote winning issue for you.

You can also write to your local candidates about fixing Centrelink and amplify the voices of those struggling within the current Centrelink system.

Finally, on May 18th you can vote for the party that you think will most improve health through addressing issues of poverty, wage inequality and income inequality.


Walk with us

Victorian Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation (VACCHO) – see election statement.
@VACCHO_org


Active transport and other health policies

Dr Arnagretta Hunter, consultant physician and cardiologist, Doctors for the Environment Australia member
@cbr_heartdoc,  @DocsEnvAus

First, I’m sitting in an office in Ngunnawal country (Canberra) and would like to pay my respects to our local Indigenous leaders past, present and future and those all over Australia.

Australians care about health. We care about wellbeing, hospitals and the cost of healthcare Investing in support to improve active transport can save lives, improve wellbeing and save health costs.

These Australian and Dutch researchers make a lovely argument to improve cycling infrastructure to save lives and improve health (including life expectancy).

But this is the climate election. Climate change is the biggest issue at this time in our lives. If we fail to appreciate how serious this is, our children should not forgive us.

Climate change threatens our economic futures – particularly in rural / regional Australia. It threatens health and wellbeing, affecting all aspects of our lives. And solutions can IMPROVE HEALTH!

Love seeing Wagga Wagga in The New York Times. I work in the Riverina and have for decades. Climate change is by far the biggest challenge for that community. We need agriculture policies that support farmers and address climate change  (and IMPROVE HEALTH).

To address climate change means so much more than stopping coal, and moving to renewable energy. Energy is about 30 percent of our carbon footprint. The other two serious climate change issues are 1. agriculture/land use and 2. Transportation.

1st: agriculture/landuse, climate change and #AusVotesHealth. Great opportunity to improve nutrition and health by encouraging changes in diet and agriculture. Animal products in moderation; a more plant-based diet.

The UN IPBES report makes horrifying reading. We can address biodiversity loss and improve human health. We must do this.

We should stop clearing land for agricultural purposes, and look at urban design to preserve biodiversity. We can design cities to improve human health and biodiversity. Another win-win!

A transition toward a more plant-based diet, with moderate consumption of animal products, is good for health – good evidence in heart disease, diabetes, hypertension and depression. Should also be good for farmers and farms.

Agriculture/diet. Australia is proud of its agricultural heritage. Most of us would love to see ongoing success. Climate change means we need to think creatively about farming.

Farmers suffer more without support recognising the effects of climate change. Farmers’ health is improved with support and proactive change in face of evolving climate.

A bit has been written about climate change science in the media over the past decade. Professor Sir David King reflects on this in the UK and it’s been a serious problem in Australia.

This Lowy Institute survey out today nicely demonstrates the relationship between good media/science communication and our population response to the climate change challenge.

People ‘believe’ in climate change, again not because of our politicians but despite them. The decade of delayed policy response cannot be recovered, but we can demand strong, effective action NOW.


What do election promises hold for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people?

Summer May Finlay, Yorta Yorta woman, public health practitioner and researcher, and contributing editor at Croakey
@SummerMayFinlay

I have many hats including a Board member of @CulturalChoice and @_PHAA_.  I will be yarning today about Labor and Liberal policies’ impacts for Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander people’s health.

Before I kick off, I would like to acknowledge the traditional owners of the lands I am on today, the Wodi Wodi people (Wollongong), and to the traditional owners of the lands, you are all on. I’d like to pay my respect to elders past and present.

I’d like to acknowledge the number of Indigenous candidates for this year’s federal election. Check them out in Karen Wyld’s great article for @IndigenousX.

Both the Labor and Liberal parties have made funding commitments for Indigenous youth suicide. This is positive, though it needs to be noted that not all suicide is driven by mental health issues.

The Liberal party has committed to funding Indigenous youth suicide initiatives with a large chunk of the money being invested in mainstream service headspace rather than Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisations.

Point of difference between the two policies is where the dollars go. Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisations are far better placed to meet the needs of our mob which is where Labor is putting the dollars.

Australian Labor has a number of Indigenous-specific policies including:

  • Stolen Generations compensation
  • Indigenous Rangers
  • Voice for First Nations people
  • National summit on First Nations children in the first 100 days.

In addition to the Labor and Liberal election promises specifically for Indigenous people, a number of their other policies impact us.

The Liberal party’s “Tackling drug Dependency” policy will disproportionately affect Indigenous people because we are twice as likely to be on welfare.

Hopefully, if we have another Liberal Government, Ken Wyatt, the Minister for Indigenous Health and Aged Care, will keep his portfolio and we will see an Indigenous Minister for Indigenous Affairs.

Labor is promising that Senator Pat Dodson will be Minister for Indigenous Affairs. Having an Indigenous man as Indigenous Affairs Minister for the first time can only be positive.

Great to see the Labor party has a First Nations Policy document! Liberals, I assume yours is on the way? You wouldn’t want to be seen as a late adopter.


Coal seam gas and the climate emergency

Dr John Van Der Kallen, rheumatologist, member Doctors for the Environment Australia
@johnvanderkall1, @DocsEnvAus

Many doctors and their organisations are worried about climate change and its impacts on health.

Consequently DEA has created an election prescription which should help people prioritise their voting.

DEA encourages everyone to sign the “No time for Games” pledge to our politicians to act on climate.

Development of gas resources is an immediate risk to health and is accelerating climate change. Gas is a fossil fuel and there is no room for further fossil fuel developments if we have any chance of stopping climate change.

Gas development and subsequent extraction is causing an acceleration in climate change. this is outlined in a recent article by David Shearman. See the health impacts from gas extraction.

For instance: In the US, several studies find leaks much greater than expected. Leaks at 300 active and 200 abandoned coal mines are the source of about 10 percent of US methane emissions.

Years ago the AMA agreed and the situation is only worse.

It is crucial that in this election, we vote for candidates who are going to take climate change seriously and protect our health by protecting the environment!

One more thing. Remember, that despite what some politicians might say, Australia’s emissions are increasing, as seen in the latest national greenhouse gas inventory (NGGI).


Looking outside the health sector for better health

Dr Belinda Townsend, Research Fellow, NHMRC Centre for Research Excellence in the Social Determinants of Health, ANU.
@BelTownsend

I’m a research fellow at ANU RegNet working in the NMHRC CRE for Health Equity. I’ll be tweeting about looking outside the health sector for better health, drawing on lessons from our CRE.  More on our project.

Transport design is also important for health. Dr Patrick Harris has found a lack of attention to health in large scale transport planning projects. Do your candidates see health as a key part of urban infrastructure design?

Trade policy is another area. Australia is negotiating several trade agreements that could affect health right now. Will the party you vote for prioritise health in trade negotiations?


Research Matters

The Lowitja Institute
@LowitjaInstitut

The Lowitja Institute differs from other funding organisations. We prioritise research developed and led by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. Our work helps build and understand the First Nations research workforce across the health sector.

The evidence shows that recognition and funding for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander organisations, researchers and services make a difference for the health of our peoples.

Parties have an opportunity this election to work with us to understand what works and make an impact.

Making health a priority is about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander leadership and understanding what works and what doesn’t for our communities.

How and when policy and decision makers engage with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people matters. Research matters.

Programs/services like those in the Close the Gap report need secure, ongoing funding.

Funding bodies need to work with organisations to minimise the time spent dealing with red tape (discussed in the 2011 Overburden report).

Initiatives like the COAG Joint Council on Closing the Gap are an opportunity to work in partnership with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander organisations to create better health outcomes for our peoples. Evidence is crucial and research organisations like ours can support this work.

How we use Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health research matters. Knowledge Translation (KT) is something our people have been doing for centuries.

KT is key in every project we fund. Our #KTthatWorks forum highlighted three programs.


• We will publish more reports from the #AusVotesHealth Twitter festival. See our stories published so far here.

 

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