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29 Nov 2019

Shadow Health Minister Chris Bowen has called for climate change and health to be established as a National Health Priority Area.

In a speech delivered at the University of Sydney, Mr Bowen said he was amazed by the number of doctors who had talked to him – in the six months since taking on his new portfolio on the Opposition benches – about the health impacts of climate change.

“As one senior doctor put it to me powerfully recently, ‘doctors listen to the science of the climate change and its health impacts like we listen to the science of vaccination and the impacts of not vaccinating. They are as clear as each other, and ignoring the science of climate change would be akin to supporting anti-vaxxers’,” he said.

“The problem is that this sense of urgency amongst our clinicians is not reflected in Government policy. The word ‘climate’ is not mentioned in our Department of Health’s Budget papers.”

National Health Priority Areas are action plans agreed between the Commonwealth and the States and Territories for urgent priority health issues. The status raises awareness, defines the challenges, and sets out a road map for dealing with them.

There have been ten priority areas: cancer control, cardiovascular health, injury prevention, mental health, diabetes mellitus, arthritis, musculoskeletal conditions, obesity, dementia, and the quality and safety of medicines are all priority areas.

“What is often missing from the public debate in Australia is an understanding that severe climate change, of the type the globe is currently on track to experience, isn’t just about the frequency and severity of weather events, it is about changing climate zones, desertification, ocean acidification, ecosystem collapse; these impacts threaten our food supply, our economy, our security and of course our health,” Mr Bowen said.

“As some have put it, climate change is so dangerous to health that it threatens to unwind 50 years of progress in improving public health outcomes, as well as adaptation to already unavoidable impacts from climate change.”

Published: 29 Nov 2019