When it comes to health policy, you really have to hand it to the Coalition. Literally. Because they don’t seem to have a clue how to devise one.
With great fanfare, Greg Hunt has announced the Coalition’s newfound interest in preventive health.
“Whether it’s drugs and alcohol, whether it’s the work in relation to diet, whether it’s other elements, we are developing, with you, a long-term national preventive health strategy,” he told a conference on Wednesday.
He doesn’t have a plan as such, just an intention to develop one.
Which goes against everything they have done over the last decade.
In opposition, Tony Abbott fought against plain-packaging for tobacco. Franking credits crusader (aka Freedom boy) Tim Wilson wrote about it at length during his time at the IPA.
Peter Dutton, when opposition health spokesman, opposed the increase in taxation on alcopops calling the bill nothing more than a “tax grab”.
Fiona Nash, as assistant health minister, controversially chose to shut down a Health Star Rating site for foods. It was later reinstated.
In the 2014-15 Budget, the government abolished the Australian National Preventative Health Agency (ANPHA) which, coupled with its decision to cease the National Partnership Agreement for Preventative Health, showed a blatant disregard for the importance of this sector.
The functions of the ANPHA were to act as a clearinghouse for information about preventive programs that work, to foster research and the trial of new ideas, to promote the use of social marketing and social media as ways of communicating preventive messages to the community (modern-day Grim Reapers for example) and advocating nationally for changes that need to be made nationally, say to food, and that cannot be done at state level.
The government also announced cuts of A$130 million over five years to the Tackling Indigenous Smoking program.
In 2017, when a coalition of 34 organisations, led by the Obesity Policy Coalition and Deakin University’s Global Obesity Centre, and including the Royal Children’s Hospital Melbourne and the Cancer Council, called for a 20% tax on sugary drinks, Malcolm Turnbull rejected the idea.
“I think we have enough taxes and there are enough imposts on us all when we go to the supermarket and we go shopping,” Turnbull said. “The other thing is, too, where do you draw the line? There is a lot of sugar in a bottle of orange juice. Are you going to put a tax on that?”
It should be noted that Labor also rejected the idea.
Despite primary health care being much cheaper than hospital care, the Coalition have been attacking it from the word go – proposing GP co-payments, freezing the Medicare rebate, closing Medicare Locals, removing bulk-billing incentives for diagnostic imaging and pathology and more.
Scott Morrison wants to make mental health and suicide prevention priorities but he was part of the government who, immediately on taking office, repealed gambling reform laws despite the evidence showing hundreds of gambling-related suicides each year.
Many successful prevention and early intervention programs were defunded and services shut down.
Excuse my cynicism if the best they can do, after six years in office, is to announce an intention to develop a strategy.
Well done you, Greg. Get back to me when you have some results because what you have delivered so far does not fill me with hope.
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