As the G20 gets draws closer, health groups are continuing to raise their voices regarding the health implications of topics under discussion.  In the most recent press releases a broad group of health organisations have come together to condemn the impact of coal on health and release a position paper on health and energy choices, and nurses in NSW and Queensland are proposing a Robin Hood tax to protect universal health care.

Both press releases can be found below.

As the G20 gets underway leading health bodies categorically declare Australia’s reliance on coal dangerous for health

November 14, 2014: Prominent health organisations from across Australia today condemned Australia’s reliance on coal citing a growing, and significant body of research documenting severe health effects.

“It is clear, in this day and age, that we should be phasing out coal. It is highly polluting and is causing disastrous health impacts in communities across Australia. As health professionals it is our duty to highlight these health risks for Australians and suggest better alternatives,” Michael Moore, CEO of the Public Health Association of Australia said.

“As Australia’s largest health union, we are concerned about the serious threat the fossil fuel sector poses to the Australian community. It is time that Governments acknowledge the concerns of health and community stakeholders like the ANMF and work with us to find healthier, more sustainable forms of energy,” Lee Thomas, Secretary of the Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation said.

The groups together released a Position Paper on Health and Energy Choices spelling out particular concerns about fossil fuels, pointing to strong evidence they cause harm to health, fuelling dangerous climate change, and must be phased out urgently in favour of safer, healthier, renewable energy sources.

“Too often the health of the community is put last in decisions about energy. Politicians must put the community first and rapidly phase out harmful coal and phase in alternative energy sources that are healthier and safer, such as solar and wind power”, Mr Moore said.

The health groups include: the Public Health Association of Australia (PHAA), Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation (ANMF), National Toxics Network (NTN), Services for Australian Rural and Remote Allied Health (SARRAH), Australian Medical Students Association (AMSA), Women’s Health East (WHE) and the umbrella organisation the Climate and Health Alliance (CAHA).

They have produced a series of recommendations for governments, industry, the health sector and the community – spelling out the steps that must be taken to minimise threats to health from current energy choices.

The Health and Energy Choices Position Paper is available here. The Position Paper states:

“Governments, business and industry, the community, and the health sector all have a responsibility to respond to minimise these threats to health. The Australian community must urgently reconsider its energy choices. Safer, healthier, affordable and sustainable choices exist now. To protect community health and wellbeing, social cohesion, the economy and the environment, these should be substituted for fossil fuel energy resources.”

Current energy policy in Australia poses a serious and increasing risk to the health of individuals, families and communities, as well as to the nation as a whole, according to the paper released.

The paper’s key messages are that:

·      The mining, transportation and burning of fossil fuels such as coal and petroleum products have significant and under recognised detrimental effects of people’s health from air, soil and water pollution, and contribute to cardiovascular, respiratory, neurological, reproductive, endocrine and kidney disorders.

·      Decisions about energy choices in Australia are being made on the basis of inaccurate assessments of costs and benefits, with economic benefits frequently overstated and costs to health, environment and other industries overlooked or ignored.

·      Continuing to develop Australian fossil fuel resources such as coal and gas threatens to push global temperatures beyond the limit agreed by the world in 2009 of two degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels. Climate scientists warn however that even this level of warming may “cause large climate change with disastrous consequences” for humans and other species.

·      The health and medical community have a responsibility to intervene in public policy decision-making where health is at risk – and current energy policy in Australia constitutes a serious risk.

·      The Australian community, politicians and policymakers must urgently reconsider our energy choices.

·      Safer, healthier choices are available and affordable. To protect community health and wellbeing, social cohesion, the economy and the environment, and these must be substituted for fossil fuel energy resources as rapidly as possible.


 NSW and QLD nurses champion Robin Hood tax to shield public health from Americanisation

As the G20 prepares to meet in Brisbane this weekend, nurses and midwives from across New South Wales and Queensland have challenged world leaders to implement a Robin Hood tax (a financial transactions tax) to support universal health care systems in Australia and across the globe.

The group, together with local and international affiliated union groups, raised concerns about state and federal health funding cuts, the privatisation of public hospitals and essential health services, coupled with the dismantling of Medicare and the intrusion of private health insurers into medical decision making. Representatives of the NSW Nurses and Midwives’ Association (NSWNMA) travelled more than 1500 kilometers from Wollongong to the G20 in Brisbane to generate discussion on the merits of a Robin Hood tax and how the additional revenue stream would ensure the delivery of quality public health care over the longer term in Australia.

General Secretary of the NSWNMA, Brett Holmes, said rather than advocating for a broadening of the GST base, which would only hurt low and middle income earners who are already doing it tough, the federal government needed to take tax reform seriously. “The Prime Minister called for a measured debate on the federation, including a discussion on tax reform, and we have responded to this by raising awareness of how a Robin Hood tax would stop our public health services from shifting further down the track of a two-tier, Americanised health system,” Mr Holmes said. “What we’re seeking is not new concept or idea.  It’s a modest levy between 0.005 and 0.05 per cent on the trading of financial instruments such as stocks, bonds, derivatives, futures, options and credit default swaps. “It could be designed in a way to specifically target financial institutions engaged in transactions at high speed and frequency, while shielding low and middle income families through other taxation changes.”

President of the NSWNMA, Coral Levett, said given current budget constraints and the ongoing impact our ageing population will have on Australia’s health system, it was time the government stopped searching for short-term fixes and focused on constructive discussions with international counterparts. “With so many international delegates in our backyard, our government has the opportunity to show some real leadership and engage in talks with European G20 members about how their EU Financial Transactions Tax (EU FTT) will work from 1 January 2016 and how a global arrangement could help bring the Robin Hood tax to Australia,” Ms Levett said. “We’re mindful of the steps being taken to try and address the issues of tax avoidance, tax evasion, base erosion and profit shifting by large multinational companies – what we’re advocating for would generate billions of dollars in additional revenue. “Much needed revenue which could be used to ensure public health and aged care services are well funded in Australia, as well as assist in the global fight against poverty and help to tackle climate change. “As nurses and midwives, we are calling on all G20 leaders and government representatives to put patient safety and quality of care within all communities around the globe at the forefront, as a basic human right,” she said.

Over the past two weeks members of the NSWNMA have held community forums at Wollongong, Parramatta, Gosford, Newcastle, Tamworth, Port Macquarie, Coffs Harbour, Lismore and Tweed Heads as part of road tour to discuss bringing the Robin Hood tax to Australia. In a show of solidarity, the Queensland Nurses Union (QNU) joined the tour at Gold Coast University Hospital along with representatives from the Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation, Community and Public Sector Union, the American-based National Nurses United, the Canadian Federation of Nurses Unions, Global Nurses United and Public Services International. During a G20 International Conference hosted by the QNU, all groups pledged support for tax justice, the importance of keeping universal health care in Australia and the need to fight against the impost of privatisation on essential health care and other public services. More details on the Robin Hood tax campaign are available here.

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