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Health and security

By Peter Curson - posted Monday, 15 February 2016


Without any doubt the first duty of the  Government is to protect all its citizens.  As a famous Roman statement – salus populi suprema est lex - has it, “the welfare of the people is the supreme law”.

Few in Australia would disagree when it comes to “stopping the boats”, protecting our borders and country against terrorism, maintaining law and order and contributing to overseas missions designed to make the world a safer place. But such an approach takes a very traditional view of security.

Some would argue that the Government has a basic responsibility to go further and protect and maintain the health and wellbeing of all its citizens.

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With little doubt people are the wealth of nations and it is not simply the number of people which counts or whether they feel safe from border incursions or terrorism, but also their education, skills, abilities and all aspects of their health status.

People are the critical human capital which the Government has a responsibility to preserve, protect and bolster, for a healthy, robust nation free from the threat of disease and ill health is the basis of a successful, innovative and caring nation.

In Australia today the question remains – how far can the  Government go to actually protect us, not only during times of crisis, but generally in everyday life, or are we forced to fall back on our own resources and manage our own health?

If so can we do this in a meaningful  and preventative manner?

Many would perhaps argue that our health is our own responsibility and would aggressively oppose the Government  intervening in many aspects of our lives. But I believe there is a pressing need to fully appreciate that security is people-centred and that health and population dynamics play an important part in Australia’s security.  

Looking back at the past 200 years there is little evidence of the Government  being able to adequately look after us during times of epidemic crisis, and evidence suggests that during such times ordinary people have shown little confidence in the Governments’ ability to do so. In consequence people were often forced back on their own resources.

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But it is not simply during such times that the Government fails to protect all its citizens but also at a time when we are confronted  by a wide range of threats related to young children, ageing, disability, obesity, diabetes, dementia, cancer, hearing, the internet, free speech and terrorism.

So who should be responsible for our health?

Should it be the Government, employers, corporations, the media or simply us? 

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About the Author

Peter Curson is Emeritus Professor of Population and Health in the Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences at Macquarie University.

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