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Wednesday, 29 September 2010
Page: 77

Ms ROXON (Minister for Health and Ageing) (9:14 AM) —I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

The Australian National Preventive Health Agency Bill 2010 seeks to focus and revitalise Australia’s preventive health capacity.

It was over a year ago that I first introduced this bill to the House.

The government’s intention was for the first Australian National Preventive Health Agency to have been established in January this year, but Senate handling has not to date enabled that.

The bill now provides a start date as proclaimed by the Governor-General once it receives royal assent.

The bill also now proposes:

  • that the Australian National Preventive Health Agency’s strategic plans cover a five-year rather than a three-year period, and
  • explicitly mentions alcohol, tobacco and other substance abuse, and obesity programs as being included in the scope of social marketing campaigns to be undertaken by the agency.

These amendments were moved by the Greens and Senator Xenophon when the bill was previously debated in the Senate and the government has agreed to support them.

This is an important measure that was recommended by both the National Health and Hospitals Reform Commission and the National Preventative Health Taskforce.

In fact, the creation of a national preventive health agency was also proposed at the 2020 summit in 2008, so it is a well-supported idea.

In 2008 the government reached agreement with the states and territories at COAG, amongst other things making historic investments in Indigenous health but also in prevention, and part of the agreement in prevention was to create the agency and commit funding to it, with an investment of over $130 million for its establishment, preventative health research and social marketing campaigns.

The government has listened and we are now acting because we know, as many people in this House do, that preventative health measures work.

We understand that the rising incidence of chronic illness, combined with an ageing population, mean that sitting on our hands is not an option in terms of both the cost to our health and hospital system and more importantly in terms of the human cost of illness and lost productivity.

This bill establishes national infrastructure to help drive major change in the way we behave and how we look after (or don’t look after) our own health.

It is widely appreciated that population growth and an ageing population is one of the major challenges to our health and hospital system.

But there are also major pressures arising from our changing lifestyles and consumption patterns.

The government knows that prevention is better than cure and that is why we have already taken strong action across a range of areas.

We know, for example, that between 1950—if you go back to the middle of last century—and 2008, more than 900,000 Australians died because they smoked, despite the fact that there was already evidence from that time on the dangers of smoking.

That’s why successive governments have taken action—including increasing the excise applying to tobacco products, conducting hard-hitting social marketing campaigns, banning tobacco advertising and including graphic warning labels.

Thanks to these and other preventive health measures we now have one of the lowest smoking levels in the world.

However there are still nearly three million Australians who continue to smoke.

Tobacco remains the single biggest preventable cause of death and disease in Australia.

That’s why the government has committed to world-leading reforms to stop smoking, including:

  • increasing the tobacco excise by 25 per cent from April this year,
  • investing an additional $5 million in Quitline services,
  • investing $85 million in antitobacco campaigns and
  • being the first country in the world to introduce plain packaging of tobacco products—ending the last avenue for cigarette companies to advertise.

A key job of the new Australian National Preventive Health Agency established by the bill will be to build upon these reforms and ensure that we continue to reduce this burden.

Similarly, with alcohol, Australians all around the country know the severe impact of alcohol abuse in our community.

In contrast to tobacco, our overall per capita consumption of alcohol is high by world standards.

One in four Australians drink at a level that puts them at risk of short-term harm at least once a month.

Around 10 per cent of Australians drink at levels that put them at risk of long-term harm.

The government has already taken action, including by:

  • launching our $103 million National Binge Drinking Campaign; and
  • ending the tax loophole on alcopops that target young people. This measure has seen the consumption of alcopops drop by 30 per cent.

But there is much more work to be done, and the Preventive Health Agency will be the government’s leading advisers on these issues.

And, on top of that, I am sorry to report to the House that we are now one of the most obese nations in the world.

The National Preventative Health Taskforce stated that if obesity trends are left unchecked the life expectancy for Australian children alive today will fall by two years by the time they are just 20.

We’ve understood this through our investments in the National Partnership Agreement on Preventive Health which will invest $872 million for prevention, in particular with a large emphasis on tackling obesity—through workplaces, local governments and programs targeted at children.

These examples illustrate why the government has made prevention a key focus of our reform agenda.

We must ensure that Australia does not go backwards in health status.

And we have to make our health and hospital system sustainable in the long term.

We need to reduce the burden of preventable health problems because they are already placing a huge range of pressures on an ageing workforce, and of course we need to ensure Australia’s productive capacity is maintained by keeping people well and in the workforce longer.

In the past the prevention effort has been neglected. We know that arrangements have been fragmented and lacked cohesion and focus.

Success in changing lifestyles takes a long time, a systematic approach informed by the latest evidence and ongoing evaluation of results.

It needs engagement, action and responsibility to be taken by individuals, families, communities, industries and businesses.

But we believe government can play a leadership role by gathering and analysing and disseminating the best available evidence and implementing programs and policies based on that evidence.

We need to bring together the best experience in the country, and we need to engage employers, businesses and the wider community in this preventative health debate.

A new approach is needed, and the new Australian National Preventive Health Agency will play a key role in achieving this ambition through the deployment of a skilled and dedicated team which can work flexibly and responsively.

The agency will also be an important part of our overall health reform efforts and will work with Medicare Locals to reinvigorate preventative health measures at the local level.

There is also opportunity for the agency to strategically assess the social determinants of health as shown earlier this week by a report commissioned by Catholic Health Australia, Health lies in wealth.

The report shows that 65 per cent of those in the lowest income groups report a long-term health problem compared with just 15 per cent of the most wealthy.

The establishment of the Australian National Preventive Health Agency will embed preventive health thinking and action, permanently, into the future as an enduring institution.

The staff will include population health and other experts. It will have responsibility for providing evidence based policy advice to health and other ministers and will administer social marketing programs and other national preventive health programs which it may be tasked with by Australian health ministers.

It will also form partnerships with industry, as well as the community and non-government sectors.

$17.6 million has been allocated for the establishment and operation of the agency, together with funding for social marketing targeting obesity and tobacco totalling $102 million and to support preventive health research, especially the translation of research into practice, for which $13.1 million has been set aside.

This bill establishes the agency as a statutory authority under the Financial Management and Accountability Act 1997, or FMA Act, and specifies its functions, governance and structure.

Health ministers have agreed to the agency being established under the FMA Act and were consulted about the broad provisions in the bill.

A chief executive officer will manage the Australian National Preventive Health Agency and will be directly accountable to the federal health minister for the financial management of the agency and to the Australian Health Ministers Conference, via the Minister for Health and Ageing, for the agency’s performance.

There will be an advisory council which will consist of experts in the field of preventive health.

So I think it is clear from this that preventive health is a policy area which the government has given the highest priority.

That is why I have introduced the bill this sitting to allow the agency to commence its important work as soon as possible.

Once established, it will mean that for the first time Australia will have a dedicated organisation to help us combat the complex challenges of preventable chronic disease.

It will benefit all Australians, now and into the future, and will play a significant role in putting Australia on the path to becoming an even healthier country.

I commend the bill to the House.

Debate (on motion by Mr Andrews) adjourned.