QUESTION: Climate change and health

Today in Question Time, Mark asked the Minister for Health and Wellbeing why, given the acknowledged role of the fossil fuel industry in exacerbating climate change and therefore public ill health, the Department for Energy and Mining is not established as a Public Health Partner Authority with SA Health.


The Hon. M.C. PARNELL: Three weeks ago, the Australian Medical Association (the AMA) released a statement formally recognising that climate change is a 'health emergency' in this country and around the world. At the state level, we have a State Public Health Plan 2019-2024, which also acknowledges the serious health impacts of climate change. In fact, the issues raised by the AMA are pretty much the same as those identified in the State Public Health Plan, such as more deaths and illness from a range of causes including heat stress, increasingly severe weather events, vector-borne diseases and mental ill health.

The State Public Health Plan also identifies that a whole-of-government approach is needed. The State Government has a Health in All Policies approach, which is about promoting healthy public policy based on the understanding that health is not merely the product of healthcare activities, but is influenced by a wide range of social, economic, political, cultural and environmental determinants of health. According to the SA Health website:

The South Australian Health in All Policies initiative is an approach to working across government to better achieve public policy outcomes and deliver co-benefits for agencies involved including to improve population health and wellbeing.

The policy describes all of the different government agencies that are involved as partners in the program, and they are called Public Health Partner Authorities; however, the one agency that is not included is the Department for Energy and Mining. In other words, the agency responsible for improving fossil fuel mining and fossil fuel power stations, and handing out tens of millions of dollars of taxpayers' money as subsidies to big fossil fuel companies, isn't even at the Health table.

My questions of the Minister are:

1. Given the clearly acknowledged role of the fossil fuel industry in exacerbating climate change and therefore exacerbating public ill health, why isn't the Department for Energy and Mining established as a Public Health Partner Authority with SA Health?

2. Is the Minister working on a response to the AMA's statement about climate change being a 'health emergency'?

The Hon. S.G. WADE (Minister for Health and Wellbeing): I thank the honourable member for his question. I suppose it's an issue of how the Government organises itself to deliver on our policy objectives. The honourable member rightly highlights South Australia's strong record in health and health policies. In fact, to pay tribute to governments of both persuasions over the last 30 years, South Australia has been a world leader in that area.

I think it would be misleading to suggest that every area that touches on health needs to be led by Health and therefore is, if you like, a subject of a Health in All Policies approach. For example, I expect the Minister for Environment to be the lead minister when it comes to our response to climate change. I do not dispute at all that climate change has a significant impact on health outcomes, but in my view, Health will provide a strong supportive role to an Environment-led response.

In terms of the public health partners, my understanding of the public health partners under the act is that agencies, on a bilateral basis, discuss with Health how they can support public health initiatives. I take the honourable member at his word that that particular department is not a member. It doesn't mean that they are not at the Health table, so to speak; we deal with all departments and, for that matter, the wider community. You can be a public health partner without actually being a government department. In fact, I think the majority of public health partners are not government departments, but I may be wrong on that.

Just to reiterate my points: the South Australian Government's response to climate change, in my understanding, will be led by Environment. Health stands ready, willing and able to play our part.

The Hon. M.C. PARNELL: Just a supplementary: the second part of my question was whether the Minister was working on a response to the AMA's recent statement, which declared that climate change was a 'health emergency'?

The Hon. S.G. WADE (Minister for Health and Wellbeing): No, I am not, because my understanding is that the Minister for Environment and Water will be leading the Government's response to climate change.