Drugs, advocacy, and understanding public health’s ‘new frontier’: it’s conference week

Hot air balloons over Lake Burley Griffin and the National Museum of Australia

Jeremy Lasek – PHAA


The Australian Public Health Conference 2021 starts this Thurday 23 September, and features a stellar line-up of presenters.

One final reminder, this year’s conference is virtual only, so if you haven’t cancelled your travel plans and accommodation in the national capital, please make that a priority.

The PHAA is delighted with the level of interest in this year’s event, and note the more than 300 delegates are from every state and territory. Registrations are still open, so register today and take some time out at the end of the week to get some great insights from what is a packed program.

It’s always fraught trying to pick out a few conference highlights when you’ve got more than 120 outstanding presenters across a range of topics and themes. These include: communicable disease control; public health approaches to the pandemic; Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander and rural health policy; bushfires and disasters: preparing for climate change; harm minimisation and innovation in public health; food and nutrition and child and maternal health.

The ACT’s Health Minister, Rachel Stephen-Smith, will give the Opening Address and will no doubt speak about the challenges and some of the successes of the ACT Government in managing the pandemic as an ‘island’ in the midst of NSW. We appreciate that Minister is taking time out of managing the lockdown to present to our Conference.

Joining Professor Simon Lenton as a Keynote Speaker on the opening morning will be Professor Alison Ritter, an internationally recognised drug policy scholar and the Director of the Drug Policy Modelling Program at the National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre at the University of NSW. Her presentation is titled Evidence, publics, values: choosing regulatory options for illicit drugs.

Professor Ritter will explore how do policy makers choose between different regulatory options for illicit drugs?

“In an ideal world this would start with evidence reflecting a utilitarian perspective,” Professor Ritter said. “In the case of regulation of illicit drugs, much of the evidence is lacking, or is ambiguous, or is contested. In this context, policy makers can turn to public opinion, and assess the extent of support or otherwise for certain policy proposals.”

Former PHAA CEO Dr Michael Moore will facilitate a day-one workshop: Politics, power and persuasion: learn about the ‘critical friend’ in public health advocacy. Dr Moore describes the session as a practical interactive workshop for all who work in public health and providing an opportunity for participants to update their advocacy skills, and learn tricks of the trade from experienced advocates. It promises to be an engaging, no-holds-barred session covering: what you need to know and do to influence decision-makers; shaping messages. The elevator pitch, the advocacy tools at your disposal, where do you find them, and most importantly, when do you use them.

Professor Tom Calma, Chancellor of the University of Canberra, will present the Basil Hetzel Oration to wrap up the first day of the conference.

Day two is equally impressive. Professor John Lowe, Editor-in-Chief of the Australia and New Zealand Journal of Public Health, will focus his presentation and workshop on Writing and Reviewing for Publication.

“Understanding how to write for publication is complemented by understanding how to review manuscripts,” Professor Lowe said.

“This workshop will look at not only writing for publication but reviewing manuscripts that have been submitted for publication. It is directed at those individuals that are relatively new to publishing their research.”

Preceding this year’s Public Health Award presentations and the closing plenary session, Never again: Health and sustainable development in the light of the pandemic from Keynote, Martin McKee. He’s a Professor of European Public Health, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, and will give a plenary on Planetary Health for the Public’s Health.

Professor McKee described planetary health as ‘the new frontier’ in public health.

“Building on the environmental roots of public health it integrates the social and ecological strands of the new public health,” he said.

“Essentially, we must accept that our traditional advocacy is not working in the new politics. To stop losing to the corporatocracy we need to play the game differently. We need to make strengthening democracy for good governance a central plank to how public health does its work.

“Strengthening democracy has two parts: strengthening the institutions that enable and promote good governance, and ensuring our representatives in parliament are qualified for their job and properly accountable to us, the people.”

The PHAA acknowledges and thanks the sponsors of the virtual 2021 Australian Public Health Conference – Principal Sponsor, the Australian Government Department of Health, and Support Sponsor, the University of Sydney.

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