Two things happened in late July that makes me worry for the future of the public’s health in Australia.
First, Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced that the National Covid-19 Coordination Commission (NCCC) was being brought under the National Cabinet. Second, the NCCC’s manufacturing working group leaked report blue printing their vision for the way forward as the pandemic settles. And third, the political donation returns covering the 2019 election period were released in February to the absence of much mainstream media interest.
The concern with the already secretive National Covid-19 Coordination Commission being brought under the National Cabinet, rebadged as National COVID-19 Commission (NCC) Advisory Board, is that this further reduces transparency in government decision making by allowing executive government to claim cabinet confidentiality for its activity and findings. The executive government has already taken to ruling by decree using delegated legislation, an alarming proportion of which is not amendable by parliament. Together, this seems like a move toward a more autocratic, less transparent and less accountable form of government.
The NCCC’s manufacturing working group leaked report calls for relaxation of gas industry regulations and more tax incentives to expand that industry. This demonstrates that while the people on that Commission know industry, their narrow view does not help create a broad and comprehensive plan for an environmentally and socially just recovery.
Finally, the February release of the donations data revealed energy and fossil fuel, gambling, alcohol and other industries whose practices are inimical to the public health continue to buying influence in government.
So pulling this all together: if we have an industry led response to covid, guided by the influence of political donors who are from industries that are directly and indirectly inimical to the public’s health (See Malcolm Baalman, Intouch July 22), within the secrecy of national cabinet guided by the fossil fuel industry heavy NCC, what sort of Australian society are they likely to envision and create? What does this mean for a response to global warming and climate disruption? What does it mean for the social security safety net? For public housing? For secure and safe working conditions? For proper funding for Aged Care, education, health care systems and hospitals? For keeping action on tobacco, nicotine, and harm minimising approaches to substance use healthful? How can any of this be good for the public’s health?
Tracey Oorschot (Intouch July 7) argues correctly that political literacy is a necessity for our democracy to work well. This applies equally to the more nebulous proposition that halting a slide to fascism is also a necessity to protect the public’s health.
So where is our national parliament in all this?
To plan how we are going to restructure our society, and to ensure that the society that emerges in a year or so from this pandemic is one that is protecting the natural environment, has an economy that is serving people, is owned by the Australian people and both protects and promotes the public’s health, we need our elected representatives using the whole apparatus of parliament assembled to be discussing, debating and deciding what should be done.
Our MPs are the people who are directly accountable to us for running this country. They should be in the driving seat and need to be scrutinising the executive government. The need for an emergency national cabinet is not yet over. But it should be limited to managing the pandemic. The work of rebuilding society and the economy is the job of parliament and its committees. It is a public health priority to be pushing to get parliament doing its full job properly. More on how we can do that later.
Dr Peter Tait has been a General Practitioner for 38 years, 30 in Aboriginal health in Central Australia. He was the 2007 Royal Australian College of General Practitioners General Practitioner of the Year, and 2017 Public Health Association Australia Sidney Sax medallist. He attained a Masters of Climate Change at the Australian National University (ANU) in 2010. He is a Clinical Senior Lecturer in Population Health at ANU Medical School. Peter believes a person’s health is grounded in a healthy society, and a healthy society in a well-functioning ecosystem. He is active in the Canberra Alliance for Participatory Democracy, and an Expert Advisory Committee member of the Climate and Health Alliance.