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This election, vote as if your life depends upon it

Introduction by Croakey: Wide-ranging concerns were raised during a recent Croakey forum profiling key health issues in the lead up to the 2022 Federal election – ranging from the need to increase investment in prevention, to inequities in access to allied health professionals, rural health needs, and the devastating impacts of systemic racism.

But Dr Peter Tait, a GP and public health advocate, argues below that the need for climate action is so urgent that this should be one of the top issues, together with restoring integrity and good governance.

“So prioritise your vote as if your young loved ones’ lives depended on it, for a candidate who you have decided will work for you, to address climate change, for good government and so the future of humanity,” he says.


Peter Tait writes:

Following COP26 and as Australia moves into election campaign mode, it occurs to me that the public health movement must take a multilayered approach to our election campaigning and asks.

By this I mean that while all the issues that people raised at Croakey’s recent #AusVotesHealth forum are very important, there is one issue that has overriding importance and another that affects all the issue we are concerned about.

The overriding issue is the survival of the human species. While there are many sub-components to humanity’s destruction of the ecological foundations of planetary health and the social determinants of people’s health, mitigating and preparing to adapt to the climate catastrophe is the most urgent.

The IPCC’s Sixth Assessment Report says so.

My suggestion is that discussion of all issues in the lead up to the election – whether by the media or health advocates – should include mention of where any particular issues sits in relation to the bigger issue of taking urgent, meaningful action on climate disruption.

The second of the issues come back to governance.

We need to also repeatedly highlight that whatever issue we are concerned about – obesity, heart disease, palliative care, road safety, substance use harm minimisation, non-communicable diseases, communicable diseases, Indigenous recognition and adoption of the Uluru Statement from the Heart – is a burning issue precisely because we have a Government that doesn’t care enough about that issue to take the action required to address it.

The Government of the day chooses to not act. So the core set of actions we must take is to use all the means available to get good government for the public’s health and wellbeing.

This strategic level action helps all of us in our struggles for health.

Such actions range from support and advocacy for changes outlined in the Public Health Association of Australia’s PHAA Unhealthy Political Influence policy through to informing and educating our ‘members’ and the general public about the avenues they have available to them to be active citizens (such as the #OurDemocracy campaign and the resources listed here, as pictured below).

Urgent timelines

This has to be The Climate Election because of the timelines for change involved.

The sooner we act, the better. That is, if we are to transition industry, building, farming and food supply, transport, work practice, recreation, health care, retail, indeed all sectors of society to accommodate decarbonised energy – given we are already 30 years behind where we could have been/should be – and if we want this transition to be as gentle and fair as possible for all the people whose lives and occupations are going to change, we have to act this year.

Without a government that is committed to take the leadership needed on this, we are doomed to fail.

Failure in the short term means much more disruption to people’s live and the economic system than is actually possible were we to act sooner. Disruption here translates into personal anguish, mental health conditions, disrupted families … all able to be minimised with a planned approach.

Even with planning, we can’t rule out unexpected surprises in the execution of the transition. But the degree of disruption will be less than if we just let change unfold – forced upon us by the climate and international action on Australia.

Integrity matters

This has to also be the integrity election because our government is failing us. Public policy scholar Dr Anne Tiernan has provided a devastating analysis of the state of Australian democracy, writing in the Griffith Review:

If we are to avoid a descent into authoritarian populism, corruption, incompetence and policy failure of the kind experienced internationally, Australians should care deeply and passionately about democracy and become active to defend it.”

Basically our Government is not governing, and all the rorting and incompetence shows that their objective of being in power is to transfer wealth to their donors so they can stay in power to transfer more wealth. Nothing about creating a health-determining society.

In this context it is worth imagining what a good government would look like at the moment.

It would acknowledge the tough times people are going through and provides enough financial and moral assistance to relieve some of the pressure and distress. It would not pander to fringe elements and incite violence against people doing their job for all of us. It would have a nationally agreed plan for the public health response to the ongoing pandemic that focused on all sectors.

It would be actively developing policy and legislating for the transition required with the participation of all Australia’s communities and sectors, all of whom are going to be affected both by the changing climate and the adaptation responses.

It would provide people in straitened circumstances with the financial support to lift out of poverty and support them to find an occupation suited to their skills and health. It would support the arts and universities. We would have laws limiting donations and election spending. We would have a Voice to Parliament. We would hold our parliamentarians in high regard and have confidence they were working for us. I’m sure you have other examples.

In short it would be leading.

Citizen power

Further, this isn’t just about The Government. It is about Parliament. All MPs of every party and the independents in the Parliament are there to work together for the best outcomes for all Australians collectively, and with challenges such as the pandemic and climate disruption, we need a Parliamentary response.

Therefore, in the upcoming election we need to think very differently about who we vote for and why. Voting is one of our powers as citizens. If we vote the way we always have, we will probably get a very similar government to the one we have now.

Instead, we need to vote as if our lives and the lives of our children and grandchildren depended on it. We need to vote for MPs who are going to do their job for us to create a liveable, compassionate, well future.

Depending on your electorate, you will have choices of candidates from LNP, ALP, Greens, minor parties, solo independents and community independents.

To be an active citizen, you need to interview them on their position on action to address global warming and good government.

With sitting MPs, you can look at their record and find out lots about them at this site.

Who you choose and who you preference is going to impact our situation in Australia for evermore.

Because the community independents have a focus on climate change and good government, particularly an integrity commission, having several of them sitting on the cross bench could made a substantial difference to action across a whole set of issues in the next Parliament.

The myth that only major parties can bring about change is busted by looking at how our last few Parliaments have run. Yes, vested interest has often won out, but at the same time significant power has been exercised by crossbenchers, even if not always for the public good.

In some states and territories, community independents are running for the Senate.

I understand people are busy; lives to lead, kids to feed, work deadlines to meet. But time is running out, so it is important to find what you can do in your lives to make even a small difference. Even if only to vote thoughtfully in the upcoming election.

So prioritise your vote as if your young loved ones’ lives depended on it, for a candidate who you have decided will work for you, to address climate change, for good government and so the future of humanity

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.


See Croakey’s coverage of health and the 2022 Federal election.

 

 

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