Australian National Preventive Health Agency (Abolition) Bill 2014

Senator SESELJA (Australian Capital Territory) (21:23): Before I get into some of the particular arguments around the Australian National Preventive Health Agency (Abolition) Bill 2014—and I will respond to some of what Senator Xenophon and others had to say—

Senator Xenophon: Please do.


Senator SESELJA: I will, but there was an element of your contribution, Senator Xenophon, that I wanted to join with you in raising. It is slightly tangential, but it is a very important issue, and that is the issue around early intervention when it comes to autism, particularly taking note of the AEIOU Foundation and the great work that they do.

Senator Xenophon interjecting

Senator SESELJA: That is an important issue that I think does need to be looked at, but can I say on the record how important I believe the work of groups like the AEIOU Foundation is for dealing with the issue of autism, for supporting families. I cast my mind back to the last ACT election, when the ACT opposition at the time had a policy of supporting autism early intervention schools such as those run by the AEIOU Foundation in Canberra. I have had the opportunity to visit the school up in Brisbane, and it does an outstanding job. The issues round the NDIS have been just recently raised with me. Certainly they are something that is on my radar, because, as the NDIS is implemented, we do not want to see it impacting on great existing services. It is a very legitimate point, and I think I am due personally to meet with the CEO of the AEIOU Foundation to discuss that soon. I will be taking that issue up, and I do take that very seriously. So I thank you for raising that, Senator Xenophon.

At the heart of what those opposing this bill have been arguing is: if you do not have a preventative health agency, you are not into preventative health. I reject that absolutely, and the government rejects that absolutely. It is not based in fact. It is completely fallacious to suggest you need a specific preventative health agency in order to do good work in preventative health. My committee heard this. Whilst many of the groups came and said, 'We need to keep the Preventive Health Agency,' when they were pushed on some of the successful examples of preventative health in this country, most of them occurred when there was no Preventive Health Agency. They occurred without needing this particular agency. So let us completely put to bed this idea that you abolish the National Preventive Health Agency and you do not support measures in preventative health, because that is rubbish.

We have seen, over decades, great examples of public awareness campaigns in a range of areas which have been highly successful which did not need the Preventive Health Agency to exist or to run them. Even one of the proponents of keeping this body who came before our committee, Professor Michael Moore, acknowledged during the hearing that a number of these public awareness programs had been successfully conceived and executed by both state and Commonwealth prior to the establishment of ANPHA. These programs focused on a range of preventable diseases and conditions, including road trauma, use of tobacco and HIV-AIDS. They were some of the examples that were put forward by Michael Moore as the gold standard of what had occurred for preventative health, and they did not need a Preventive Health Agency. I will quote from Michael Moore:

… we actually can see … each of the interventions and the impact they have—the dropping of the speed limit, the introduction of alcohol breath testing and so forth. You can apply exactly the same thinking to things like obesity, because there was a personal responsibility absolutely fundamental in terms of how people drive, how you would train them and so forth. But a government responsibility was also recognised …

Nothing changes if this legislation goes through. Nothing changes in relation to the government's attitude to preventative health if you abolish the agency. All of those factors can be there. Examples were highlighted by Michael Moore and others. If we look at the successes, most of us would acknowledge some of the efforts in relation to reducing the rate of smoking in this country. Those efforts did not need the Preventive Health Agency in order to achieve that. What they needed was will from government and/or governments to say: 'We acknowledge that smoking rates in this country are too high, that they are detrimental to the health of our nation, that they are very costly, that there are significant flow-on costs of higher rates of smoking. We want to see young people not taking up the habit. We want to see adults quitting and being helped to quit.'

So we have seen a range of measures. Those types of measures will continue, because this government remains committed to preventative health. It remains committed to those kinds of public awareness campaigns, public education campaigns. We can look at a range of others, perhaps in relation to the dangers of illicit drugs, for example. As a parent I don't think that in this country at the moment there is enough being done to warn our children of the dangers of illicit drugs. I think that there are some in the establishment who would see sugar as a far greater danger to our children than some illicit drugs. I think there has been some laxity in some areas in relation to the danger that drugs such as ice, cannabis and other illicit drugs pose to particularly our young people.

As we look at any number of those types of campaigns we have not needed a Preventive Health Agency in order to achieve that. This was put to the department. As I say, even some of those proponents of this agency—those who would oppose this bill—acknowledge that the best examples of preventive health have come outside of a specialist agency. This fallacy should be seen for what it is and should be called for what it is. It was put to the department and the department explained that it will maintain engagement with stakeholders through a series of specialist advisory and consultative groups. I quote from the report:

[T]he Department has a very strong engagement across all areas of prevention, with key stakeholders. That has not changed at all. There was one key group that related to disadvantaged groups, around tobacco consumption and the like. That was a separate advisory committee that was set up by ANPHA. We have taken on the responsibility, and we are continuing that committee, as well, in the Department.

Again, it is an example that you can be committed to preventive health without needing a Preventive Health Agency. The Preventive Health Agency is a recent phenomenon. In fact, preventive health was not invented when the agency was set up.

The committee also noted in the report generally the focus on outcomes in preventive health rather than a specific delivery model. I think that that is an important point. It is about outcomes. It is about what is being done; it is not about whether or not it is being done through one particular type of bureaucracy or one type of government program versus another.

What we are really interested in are outcomes, but when we see a situation where bureaucracies from states and territories are not coordinated well and there is not an independence to ensure that they are coordinated, then we see that there is an importance for some independence and also a specific focus

I think that when we look at this issue and we look around preventive health policy, yes, there are some who will argue for one particular model over another. But, as I say, even the likes of Michael Moore—and I am not trying to verbal Michael Moore. I acknowledge that if Michael Moore were here—in fact, he used to be in the ACT assembly and he would have argued these sorts of things when he was in the ACT assembly—I will say that, if he were here tonight, if Michael Moore reads the Hansard, he would be arguing for the keeping of this agency. There is no doubt. So I am not seeking to verbal him. Let it not be said that I am seeking to verbal Michael Moore. But even he as a proponent of this agency acknowledges and acknowledged before the committee that is not the be all and end all. Those were not his words. Very solid examples—in fact, some of the very best examples that we have seen in relation to preventive health—have occurred outside of a specific Preventive Health Agency.

It must be said in the context of what this will achieve, yes, there is a saving of $6.4 million over four years and approximately $2.6 million per annum ongoing. We should always be looking for better ways of doing things. This government believes that the model that we have had is not the best way of doing things. Those savings, of course, can either be taken off the debt or, over time, as you see ongoing savings and if our budgetary position is better, it might be that there is more scope for better targeted preventive health measures. The government remains committed to those across the board.

We know that we have seen some failures from this particular agency. We do not need to dwell on them but there were some flops when it came to preventive health. We saw the study into fat taxes which nobody wanted. I do not think that would have occurred in a government agency that was part of the department. We have also seen things like sponsoring the Summernats burnout competition. Things like the fake music festivals, which were such a flop. We do not need to dwell on those things, but clearly this has not been a resounding success.

What will be a resounding success is if the government continues to be committed, as it is, to funding measures that work so that we can see our health outcomes getting better and where the government is in a position to educate the community, particularly to assist young people, which I think is most important. I do not think we should spend all of our lives as a government, I do not think the government should spend all its energy, telling people that certain things are bad for them, because in the end I know that adults for the most part do understand many of the things that are not good for them. Where there are gaps in the knowledge, of course, the government should be making sure that those gaps in the knowledge are not there. But, let's face it, most adults by now know that if they do not exercise, if they eat too much fatty food, if they smoke, they are putting themselves at risk of serious things—of cancer and other serious complications. I do not think we need to constantly labour the point with adults. But where there are gaps in the knowledge of young people, there will continue to remain an important role for government to play in preventive health—to lower costs in our health system, to increase life expectancy, to increase the quality of life of Australians. Those are all good things.

But let us not fall for this falsehood that has been put by a number of speakers in this debate, and that is that if you abolish a particular agency, which in our view has not been a success, that you are somehow undermining the health of our nation or you are somehow not committed to preventive health. Those statements are false. They do not follow. They are not logical. As I say, even some of the opponents of this legislation, even some of the proponents of this agency, would acknowledge that it did not take a Preventive Health Agency to see wonderful work done on lowering smoking rates in this country. It did not take a preventive health agency to see campaigns in relation to HIV-AIDS. It did not take a preventive health agency to give us campaigns on lowering road trauma around speeding, drink driving and other safety factors. All of these things have been resounding successes—in fact, we as a nation should be very proud of the work that we have done over decades in this space—but it has not taken this particular model to get us there. This is a recent model, and we have not seen anything like those kinds of significant results. Those opposite would argue that if we stuck at it for five, 10 or 15 years we might. We believe that it is not about the particular model; it is about a commitment and it is about using evidence to work through what works—what are the messages that will actually work; what are the messages that will hit home with our young people—so that we can warn them off drugs, warn them off binge drinking, warn them off other risky behaviour and warn them off smoking.

I do not want to see my kids smoking; I do not want to see my kids using illicit drugs; I do not want to see my kids binge drinking. I have a role, of course, as a parent, and we all have a role as individuals to be doing that. I think that point does always need to be made—that personal responsibility is very important—but I acknowledge, and the government acknowledges, that the government does also have a very important role to play. The government will continue to play that very important role. It will continue to play that role if this legislation goes through because the measures will be there, because the department is tasked with these programs for education and the like to ensure that preventive health continues to be a key focus for the government.


I commend the bill to the Senate. I think that the savings are important, but streamlining the delivery of preventive health is also important. We believe there is a better model. We believe that this model has not worked; therefore, I commend the bill to the Senate.