Jan 9, 2020

MEDIA RELEASE – BUSHFIRES ARE A NATIONAL PUBLIC HEALTH EMERGENCY THAT REQUIRES A NATIONAL RESPONSE – THURSDAY, 9 JANUARY 2020

ANTHONY ALBANESE MP
LEADER OF THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY
MEMBER FOR GRAYNDLER

 

CHRIS BOWEN MP
SHADOW MINISTER FOR HEALTH
MEMBER FOR MCMAHON

 

BUSHFIRES ARE A NATIONAL PUBLIC HEALTH EMERGENCY THAT REQUIRES A NATIONAL RESPONSE 

The Morrison Government must treat the Australian bushfire crisis as a national public health emergency and develop a comprehensive and integrated response to meet the physical and mental health needs of victims.

Dozens of communities across the nation have been ravaged by bushfires in recent months with up to 26 deaths, hundreds of injuries and many thousands of people traumatised.

In line with the advice of 28 of Australia’s leading health groups who have called for this crisis to be treated as a public health emergency, Labor calls on Government to develop a national response to ensure Australians impacted by the fires have access to health and mental health services. It should:

Ensure access to medical care in bushfire-affected areas by:

  • Increasing support for GPs and primary care;
  • Allowing access to Medicare tele-health items in bushfire areas on the same basis already extended to drought-affected areas; and
  • Working with states to increase access to medical specialists, including respiratory specialists.
  • Urgently initiate a public health awareness campaign on the impact of bushfire smoke, as well as fund research into the long-term health consequences associated with more severe bushfire seasons.

 Improve mental health services in bushfire-affected areas by: 

  • Lifting the cap on mental health consultations allowed under Medicare; and
  • Boosting funding for Primary Health Networks and states to deploy trauma counsellors and other mental health providers.

Prioritise the mental health needs of children and first responders by: 

  • Funding states to provide counsellors and resources to children and families in bushfire-affected areas when school returns; and
  • Working with states to implement the recommendations of a recent Senate inquiry on the mental health of first responders, including volunteers.

The bushfire emergency is a national crisis which requires a national response.

While extinguishing fires and housing people whose homes have been lost is the immediate priority, it is critical that the Federal Government also provide national leadership to address longer term effects on the health of victims.

The scientists have been telling us for years that climate change would increase the prevalence and severity of bushfires.

Unfortunately, this has eventuated. The Government must recognise that this trend requires greater effort on the public health effects of bushfires.

Labor has previously called for climate change and health to be added as a National Health Priority Area and addressed in a National Strategy. But the Government has refused.

We again urge it to reconsider.

While Labor recognises the importance of an Australian Medical Assistance Team presence in the Gippsland region, the efforts do not go far enough to service the greater impacted communities across Australia.

THURSDAY, 9 JANUARY 2020