Media release: Labor’s announcement on a national environmental protection authority has big health spin offs

Doctors have today described Labor’s announcement to explore an independent environment protection structure, if elected, as “visionary”.

Medical advocacy group Doctors for the Environment Australia, which is supported by a Nobel laureate, several recipients of the Australia of the Year Award and Deans from Australia’s leading medical schools, says this is one of the most important health statements in this election.

Spokesperson Dr David Shearman says the current decentralised structure, where responsibility for the environment rests with each state, fails to prioritise the environment and health over and above the various industry groups and governments’ desire for short-term profits particularly from the fossil fuel industries.

Dr Shearman also says the current system is confusing, inefficient, uneconomic and often lacking transparency.

“Enquiries as to the safety of unconventional gas mining has been conducted by nearly all states with many different outcomes varying from moratoriums to ‘go for it boys’, “ says Dr Shearman. “Yet the science is the same for all enquiries. The former outcome currently operates in Victoria, whereas over the border in SA the latter in likely to prevail with an adjoining aquifer system.
“The visionary intent to have a centralised system would ensure all Australians, despite where they live, work and play, are better protected from significant risks to their health from damage to their environment.

“Australia must take a national approach to assessing the health impacts of resource and other heavy industries, monitoring their performance and setting standards to ensure proper environmental and health protection.”

The insecurity and distress caused to thousands of Australians by inadequate assessments of mining decisions by many states are well illustrated in a report on Queensland.

In 2013 DEA produced a report The Health Factor which demonstrated many health and environmental disasters from inadequate state assessments. It recommended that Australia moves to a US EPA style model.

“It is to the advantage of the community and industry that major projects are assessed nationally and independently by the best experts we have,” says Dr Shearman.

The federal Independent Expert Scientific Committee is an example for how a national system can bring a strictly scientific approach to the difficult area of how resource development might affect ground water and aquifers (water trigger). Such assessments are essential for the protection of water for agriculture and for the provision of healthy water for human consumption.

A national EPA would bring big health benefits to the community. Air pollution is an environmental issue requiring national action to prevent disease. Presently some states resist reform and national agreements between states may take years.

“ President Barack Obama has used the US EPA to save lives and benefit the health budget. It’s about time our political leaders had a similar vision. “


Dr David Shearman AM, 0481 850 181


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About DEA

DEA is an independent health advocacy organisation of medical doctors raising awareness of the link between health and the environment

We are supported by a scientific advisory committee:

Professor Stephen Boyden AM; Professor Peter Doherty AC; Professor Dave Griggs; Professor Michael Kidd AM; Professor David de Kretser AC; Professor Stephen Leeder AO; Professor Ian Lowe AO; Professor Robyn McDermott; Professor Lidia Morawska; Professor Peter Newman AO; Professor Emeritus Sir Gustav Nossal AC; Professor Hugh Possingham; Professor Lawrie Powel AC; Professor Fiona Stanley AC; Dr Rosemary Stanton OAM; Dr Norman Swan.

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