‘Who are we?’ Highlights from the Opening Plenary of Population Health Congress 2022

Logos of: Public Health Association of Australia, Australian Health Promotion Association, Australasian Epidemiological Association, Australasian Faculty of Public Health Medicine. Text: 'Population Health Congress 2022. Wednesday 21 to Friday 23 September 2022. Adelaide Convention Centre, South Australia. Hybrid Congress. www.pophealthcongress.com #PopCongress2022

Melanie Parker, PHAA

Renowned researchers, public health chiefs, population health students and professionals, and prominent politicians from across Australia and Aotearoa New Zealand attended last week’s Population Health Congress 2022.

Hosted in hybrid format by the Public Health Association of Australia, Australian Health Promotion Association, Australasian Epidemiological Association, and Australasian Faculty of Public Health Medicine, the three-day event gathered over 500 delegates, with many attending virtually via the event’s online platform.

We were honoured to have Jack Buckskin, Kaurna and Narrunga man, give the Welcome to Country for the Congress, which was conducted on Kaurna Country (Adelaide).

Public Health at a critical junction: Where to from here?

Featuring current Federal Minister for Health and Aged Care, Mark Butler MP, former Australian Health Minister Nicola Roxon, and PHAA President Adjunct Professor Tarun Weeramanthri AM, the Opening Plenary discussed key public health issues, including vaping, the Australian Centre for Disease Control (ACDC), the future of public health, and transparency and accountability.

Health Minister Mark Butler on COVID-19, Climate, ACDC

Hon Mark Butler standing at lectern at Population Health Congress 2022

Minister Butler discussed the huge social, health, and economic effects of COVID-19 on the public in Australia, noting “we’ve lost almost 12,000 lives to this pandemic over the course of this year, with millions of people infected.”

He also flagged that COVID-19 will have a “long tail”.

“We are going to be dealing with the more indirect impacts of COVID-19 for a long, long time,” referencing long COVID, cancer screening, and deferred care.

Minister Butler also discussed the long-term psychological effects of traumatic community events, including natural disasters.

Finally, he discussed the aged care system, the National Climate Health Strategy, strengthening Medicare, and the benefits that the Australian Centre for Disease Control will bring to the nation’s public health capabilities.

On the government’s plans for the Australian Centre for Disease Control, Minister Butler noted that he’s “had some great discussions already with the PHAA.”

“Like all of our policies we need to wait until the Budget at the end of October to have formal authority to start implementing this commitment. But as soon as we’ve got that authority from the Budget, I intend to get moving.”

He stressed the importance of buy-in and cooperation from states and territories, otherwise the ACDC would be “dead on arrival”.

“This must be a cooperative venture between the Commonwealth and all states and territories,” said Minister Butler, noting that in discussions he’s already had, “there is real enthusiasm at a state and territory level for [the ACDC]”.


Who are we? The gathering of the clans

PHAA President Adj Prof Tarun Weeramanthri sitting holding microphonePresenting to delegates from the four principal population and public health organisations in Australasia, Adj Prof Weeramanthri considered ‘who we are’ as a whole.

He stressed the importance of transparency and accountability across public health. He discussed issues that arose during COVID-19, and the ever growing threat of climate change to health, noting the importance of public health people being strongly involved in justice movements.

“To be effective climate health advocates, we need to be a part of a broader justice movement,” he said, noting the need to level the playing field and redistribute power.

Greater inclusion is vital for enriching the public health conversation, said Adj Prof Weeramanthri, and this means giving the public a voice, and ensuring they are heard.

“We need to commit to the highest levels of institutional and governmental transparency and accountability to sustain trust in public health interventions, particularly in times of crisis or emergency.”

Intersectionality, identity, and inclusion were the key topics covered by Adj Prof Weeramanthri’s speech, which can be read in this Croakey News article, or if you are registered as a Population Health Congress 2022 delegate, you can watch the recording at the event portal.


What can we learn from past public health reform successes (and failures)?

Former Federal Health Minister Nicola Roxon sitting holding microphone.

Former Federal Health Minister Nicola Roxon reflected on a range of public health topics including preventive health, violence against women, climate change, the ACDC, vaping, highly processed foods, and the influence of harmful industries.

She advised that we must carefully think about how to effectively tackle harmful industries, “those industries that actively reduce public health and wellbeing.”

“Ensuring that tobacco stays out of our lives, reducing the harms from alcohol, considering how and where we combat high sugar and highly processed foods.”

Nicola Roxon, who was influential as Federal Health Minister in the implementation of tobacco plain packaging, finished her speech on an emphatic note, cautioning against vaping.

“The tobacco industry is now actually buying e-cigarette and vaping businesses and products” she said, noting that “alarm bells should be ringing at high volume.”

“Please let’s not leave a ticking time bomb for the next generations.”

“Let’s not be naïve about the industry and how it will behave.”

“Let’s better protect our young people from being manipulated and sacrificed to the industry’s avarice and deceit.”


The Opening Plenary was chaired by Dr Carmen Parter and Professor Dallas English.

Stay tuned for additional Intouch instalments outlining key sessions of Population Health Congress 2022.

Recordings of Population Health Congress 2022 sessions will be available to delegates for three months post-Congress, on the event’s virtual platform.

The Population Health Congress 2022 was hosted by the Public Health Association of Australia, Australian Health Promotion Association, Australasian Epidemiological Association, and Australasian Faculty of Public Health Medicine.

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