BUYER beware. There’s some old stuff masquerading as some new stuff on the Australian political market. And it’s just fluked its way out of obscurity.
In a twist of electoral dumb luck, the ironically renamed Health Australia Party (HAP) has won the first column on the NSW senate ballot paper.
In reality, the HAP is merely a rebadged and reimagined version of the Natural Medicine Party (NMP) – and its renaming is misleading in the extreme.
The HAP could accidentally get over the line by duping voters who think they’re voting for good health policy. This should be a major concern to evidence-based health professionals and the Australian public alike. In politics, perception is everything and so the rebadging of the NMP is the key here.
With the rebadge – they hope – comes legitimacy in a space where they have none.
Delving into HAP policies reveals crucial misunderstandings.
Their policy document begins with the assertion that “Australia is experiencing an epidemic of chronic disease which is rarely discussed by health officials or in the media”. This is a misrepresentation of reality.
- Related: MJA InSight — Time for government to tackle anti-vaxxers
- Related: MJA InSight — Fatigue management: pilots put doctors to shame
- Related: MJA InSight — Unacceptable when doctors under attack
- Related: MJA InSight — Kind can be hard, polite should be mandatory
Yes, there is a chronic disease “epidemic” in Australia. But no, it’s not “rarely discussed”. And that’s the problem with a group like the HAP. On closer inspection, their policies are a filled with half-truths used to support their fringe health beliefs and mask the fact that their key assertions are not supported by evidence.
Chronic disease has been and remains a major focus for research and discussion in Australian health policy. The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare maintains robust data on the burden of chronic disease and the Department of Health via the National Strategic Framework for Chronic Conditions, uses data to form a coordinated policy approach to management.
But chronic diseases aren’t the only area where the HAP is misguided and misinformed.
They’d also like to get rid of water fluoridation. They don’t see a benefit in a public health measure shown to significantly reduce rates of dental decay and improve dental health – one that has also been shown to have no demonstrable negative effects despite repeated and thorough investigations looking for them.
No, the HAP doesn’t like it because they believe fluoride is toxic and causes health effects. No matter what the evidence says. That’s not science. That’s not a good way to make policy.
Similarly, if the HAP had their way they’d repeal the Commonwealth’s No Jab, No Pay legislation. This is the legislation that means that unless a child is fully vaccinated – or a plan is in place to catch up on missed vaccines – parents are ineligible for certain government payments. It’s not forced vaccination and it doesn’t remove choice. It is good policy that demonstrates the importance of childhood vaccination and provides consequences for opting out.
Legislation like No Jab, No Pay is part of the reason why Australia enjoys one of the lowest rates of endemic vaccine preventable illnesses and has a vaccine program that is the envy of the developed world. Getting rid of it would be a backward step.
The HAP’s policies are fundamentally preoccupied with seeing ineffective therapies, including homeopathy and naturopathy, on an equal footing to evidence-based medical practice in Australia’s health policy. In the eyes of Medicare this includes, presumably, valuing homeopathic vaccines as equivalent to the ones that actually work. That is not the way to keep Medicare sustainable.
Having views like those of the HAP isn’t really a problem if they are voiced at dinner tables and discussed in clinics or in Facebook groups.
But with a seat in the federal senate comes a real risk to a healthy Australia. Here the HAP will have the potential to waste public money and senate time debating their own warped view of science at the cost of meaningful discussions.
The HAP is the climate change denier and flat-earth-creationist of the health world and has no part to play in serious conversations about the future of Australia’s health, let alone in shaping Australia’s health policy.
Regardless of the name, a vote for the HAP is not a vote for a healthy Australia.
Dr Simon Hendel is a Melbourne-based anaesthetist and retrieval physician. He is completing his postgraduate studies in journalism.