Stuff Adelaide Oval, let’s fix the environment first
Good health is fundamental to our lives, so in assessing whether a government decision is good, bad or just acceptable it is useful to apply the health criterion. If this was applied to every decision, no doubt government would improve. I am going to apply this criterion to the Adelaide Oval.
Our health has two fundamental needs. Easy to understand is the need for hospitals, emergency services, life support systems (intensive care) and family doctors. Waiting lists and hospital closures are rightly big news.
Even more fundamental to health are the natural life support systems, the natural resources, water, availability of productive, non-degraded land, biodiversity and stable climate. These are deteriorating, and scientists have used the words global environmental change to describe them. This change is accelerating.
Let us look at one seemingly obvious example of an ecological service that is provided by the honey bee. You might get stung, have an allergic reaction and need the emergency department, but in respect of the health of everyone in the world, if the pollination services of the bee are lost, world food production would fall by 10 per cent at a cost of billions of dollars.
Bee populations are declining rapidly throughout the world, stressed by climate change, pesticides and disease. So we can draw the conclusion that government decisions that aggravate the bees’ plight are bad.
Thousands of ecological services can be costed; the gain from chopping down a forest can be equated with the loss of water filtration and carbon storage services. For each example the decision needs to be made to take into account human health and the future.
If we apply these concepts to Australia then very bad decisions are being made by all governments. In general, decisions are being made by 20th century thinkers rather than by those who understand the complexities of global environmental change and its relationship to human health. I will describe four.
One of the biggest existing Australian white elephants must be the proposed Adelaide Oval redevelopment to drive footy-led economic growth. This has big health implications. The $550m government expenditure is made in the face of closures of rural hospitals on a baseline of poor rural health services.
It matters not whether the hospitals are public or private, the government’s role is to provide. Rural people have more illness and shorter lives conferred not just by health services but by a lifestyle lacking transport, social services, basic shopping, available banks and schools and contracting communities.
Not even $550m would solve these problems but it would be a start. Rural living needs to be made sustainable and healthy in the face of global environmental change.
But that is only half the health aspect of this white elephant story. Just as zoos are repositories of animal biodiversity that humanity wants to save and perhaps reintroduce, so iconic Botanic Gardens like Mount Lofty are the repository of thousands of Australian and world species.
I remind you that maintenance of biodiversity is a health issue. The $2m cut over four years reducing staff from 23 to nine in the gardens exposes the poor judgement that footy-led economic growth is more important than the health of citizens who need green space, exercise and the protection of biodiversity for the future. Indeed, the $500,000 for government hospitality at the car race would have preserved these biodiversity jobs for one year.
To recognise that biodiversity is financially neglected in this state, simply walk into some conservation parks to see irreversible damage from weeds and understand the impacts of successive budget cuts. These environmental health problems are legion and nationwide.
One of the first decisions of the new premier of Victoria was to deny decades of science and allow graziers to reintroduce cattle into the fragile water catchments of the high country - an election promise and a failure to understand an ecological service; the previous government built a pipeline to feed Melbourne with Murray River water. Times do not change!
In the wake of the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico which greatly impacted the lives and therefore health of so many in Louisiana, the federal government has granted a lease to Shell to drill an exploratory well within 50km of the Ningaloo reef. Read this link and decide whether this is a balanced decision for the future.
All big resource decisions have significant health considerations. In pushing the James Price Point LNG development in the Kimberley the government of WA has said the revenue will bring health services to local community.
“Through this project we’ll have opportunities, better opportunities through school, better health, land, better housing,” Premier Barnett said.
The businessman Geoffrey Cousins has responded “What a lot of nonsense. If the Aboriginal communities deserve extra money for education, for housing or whatever it is for, then give it to them”.
On the other side of the health equation the Premier is putting at risk some of the world’s most important land and sea biodiversity, vital to the sustainability of human health. James Price Point certainly qualifies as another white elephant.
Three years ago Doctors for the Environment Australia (www.dea.org.au) produced a poster on Biodiversity - the Web of Life. It asked: “Will the next generation inhabit a healthy earth?” The poster was for doctors’ waiting rooms.
Global environmental change affects everything in our lives including health. Perhaps politicians, like doctors, need mandatory annual re-education programs to understand the complex issues of today. Perhaps a boot camp? Those from business could be educated in advances in health and the environment and vice versa.
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