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Has the health sector failed its responsibilities on climate advocacy this election?

*** This post was updated on 19 May with further commentary and responses***

Introduction by Croakey: How many health and medical organisations have prioritised climate action in their election scorecards and advocacy?

On a quick review, it appears that most have not, reports GP and public health advocate Dr Peter Tait.

Of course, there are some notable exceptions, including the Climate and Health Alliance, Lowitja Institute, Doctors for the Environment Australia, cohealth and Public Health Association of Australia. The Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists Congress this week has also spotlighted the urgent need for climate action.

It’s also worth noting the heroic efforts of many health workers in advocating for climate action, as we’ve documented in The Election Wrap in recent weeks.

Overall, however, Tait laments a lost opportunity.


Peter Tait writes:

I’m disappointed.

The thunderous silence from most major medical and health organisations about the importance of climate disruption as a health issue for this election means we have lost a generational opportunity.

OK, maybe not generational. But at this critical time when we need a government and a parliament to take decisive action on climate, to risk losing another three years to inaction on climate has profound implications for health and wellbeing.

Peak medical organisations have let go past the opportunity to spell out to the electorate the importance for all of us to vote for candidates who have a demonstrated plan to address climate change and the social disruption that is causing even now.

I did a quick review of medical and health organisations’ websites and tweets to see if I had missed any public announcements.

The Australian Medical Association (AMA) has climate change as a low priority issue in its election manifesto. But its campaign media has been about reforming general practice, Medicare, rural health workforce and other medical issues.

As a GP I understand the need for reform. But I also think that the collapse of industrial society consequent to climate and other environmental disruptions over the next few decades warranted some public statements.

A seriously disrupted climate will make these reforms irrelevant.

Further, any reform that doesn’t factor in climate disruption is insufficient. At least the important issue of climate action could have received some air time.

The ACT branch of the AMA has polled ACT candidates on their climate policies. The results are on their Health Channel.

The RACP and Faculty of Public Health Medicine have similarly been silent. The RACP along with RACGP, ACEM, RANZCOG, RANZCP, RACS, Sports and Exercise Physicians, College of Intensive Care Medicine, RANZCO and ANZCA has its Healthy Climate Future campaign, which invites members to contact their local MP and publicise the campaign on social media but has not made any public statements.

The PHAA has been actively running its #VoteforPublicHealth campaign which features climate action and political integrity. They have ranked the major parties on each of the seven aspects.

DEA and CAHA have also been active in scorecarding parties and publishing on Twitter.

I suspect organisations will come back to claim it is not their role to tell people how to vote but to advocate to government for change.

That may have been the case last century before humanity was unequivocally facing existential threats.

Now, we have a responsibility to let the public know about the health threats and to suggest that they take account of candidates’ and parties’ when voting.

The election campaign has been poorly served by the mainstream media who have avoided important issues. In this vacancy of policy, strong health and medical voices may have made a useful contribution.

UNFORTUNATELY the health sector has missed the bus.

Going forward, regardless of the make-up of the next parliament, health and medical organisations will need to step up to press for strong climate action to reduce the physical and mental health burden from climate disruption. If we fail in this challenge, we have failed society.

Dr Peter Tait is a GP, a Clinical Senior Lecturer in Population Health at ANU Medical School and active with many public health and democracy organisations. On Twitter, follow @aPeterWT.


Responses and commentary

(Updated on 19 May)

Response from the RACP

The article above includes a statement:

“The RACP and Faculty of Public Health Medicine have similarly been silent. The RACP along with RACGP, ACEM, RANZCOG, RANZCP, RACS, Sports and Exercise Physicians, College of Intensive Care Medicine, RANZCO and ANZCA has its Healthy Climate Future campaign, which invites members to contact their local MP and publicise the campaign on social media but has not made any public statements.”

Please see below a number of public statements the RACP have made in the lead up to the Federal Election.

These statements were distributed widely to media, including Croakey.

The RACP has also been active on social media, please see some examples below:

  1. “The Au Federal Election campaign continues to overlook some of the most significant challenges our country faces – addressing #climatechange and bolstering our healthcare system READ MORE: https://t.co/veUjqvpazi #HealthyClimateFuture https://t.co/UAPq9kr6I0” 
  2. “With school students leading climate strikes throughout Australia today, we are reiterating our calls for a #HealthyClimateFuture. This campaign is backed by 9 other medical colleges representing more than 100,000 doctors. Take action this Federal Election https://t.co/A2aUmVUJNbhttps://t.co/BJu4HuSLbi
  3. “In the wake of devastating floods, 10 medical colleges, representing 100,000+ doctors have come together. Led by RACP, we’re calling on political leaders to commit to delivering a climate-ready healthcare system. READ OPEN LETTER: https://t.co/gzPDGs3FHZ #HealthyClimateFuture https://t.co/kxZyYeLx81

The RACP requests Croakey makes a correction to readers that “The RACP has made a number of public statements about climate change and health in the lead up to the federal election, you can find them on the RACP website https://www.racp.edu.au/news-and-events/media-releases.”


Further commentary by Dr Peter Tait and others


See Croakey’s archive of stories on the climate emergency and health

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