House debates

Tuesday, 7 February 2023

Grievance Debate


6:33 pm

Photo of Peta MurphyPeta Murphy (Dunkley, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I have been thinking a lot lately about wellbeing. Many people know that the concept of Australia adopting something that looks like a wellbeing budget or, as the Treasurer is talking about in the consultation he has open at the moment, measuring what matters, is something that I have been interested in and talking about for a number of years now. But it is clear that wellbeing is a concept that is ill-defined in some ways in debate. It is a little bit like resilience, which is something I have also been thinking a lot about. We often use these words with an assumption that everyone who is listening to us thinks about them in the same way, that it means the same thing to everyone. But wellbeing can mean a whole raft of things, depending on what is happening in a person's life or in their community or in their country. Wellbeing can mean physical health. It can literally mean whether or not you have an illness or a disease, an acute or chronic condition. It can mean whether you are fit, whether you have a good diet, whether you smoke or drink to excess. Wellbeing can mean how your emotional and mental state is faring, whether you're lonely and disconnected, whether you're positive and happy.

Wellbeing, many people have contended—and I am one of them—can mean how your community is faring. Is your community connected and happy? Are there enough jobs? Can people get the sort of work that they want, which has good conditions and is well paid? Can small businesses thrive and compete with the conglomerates? What's your local economy like? Wellbeing is whether you can walk in the park and breathe in clean air—whether you have a park—whether your native flora and fauna is thriving or dying, whether the oceans are swimmable and the mountains are still there to climb and the ice is still there if we want to visit the poles of our globe. Wellbeing can mean that the economy of a country is thriving, because that's essential to deliver not just economic wellbeing but houses that people can live in and water that people can drink and those well-paid jobs and industries.

Wellbeing, I think, means all of those things, and they are all connected and indivisible. And I don't think in this parliament, perhaps—and I mean this place, not just the current parliament with the members in it—that we always think deeply enough, or have the time and the space to think deeply enough, about what wellbeing is and whether we're here to try to help deliver it, and, if we are, how we would go about that. I know it's one of the reasons that the Treasurer has said a budget or a process that counts what matters and reports on what matters is something that he is working towards implementing in this parliament and for our country.

Recently I was talking, as I do, about metastatic breast cancer. The Breast Cancer Network put out a report at the end of last year to emphasise that, whilst we have national registers, for example, that note when a person is diagnosed with cancer and when they die of cancer, we don't record on registers when people are diagnosed with metastatic cancer, particularly metastatic breast cancer. So there's no national record of how many people in this country have metastatic breast cancer, although some modelling would suggest it's currently about 10½ thousand people.

The phrase that comes from some of that that I've been thinking about is: if you aren't counted, you don't count. It's very hard to know whether we have enough resources directed towards support for the people who have metastatic cancer and for their families and whether those supports are adequate and are doing what they should be doing if we're not counting how many people have metastatic breast cancer and using the data to see what's happening. I think that's the concept that goes back to wellbeing. Obviously, how well and how long you can live with a chronic condition like metastatic breast cancer is a part of wellbeing, but counting what matters and amplifying what matters is how we will get better at delivering wellbeing.

I've used this quote a number of times in this parliament in things that I've written, but I've yet to find anything that I think better encapsulates what I'm trying to talk about. It's from a 1968 speech by US senator Robert F Kennedy where he's talking about his approach to measuring success of a country. He says:

… the gross national product does not allow for the health of our children, the quality of their education or the joy of their play. It does not include the beauty of our poetry or the strength of our marriages, the intelligence of our public debate or the integrity of our public officials.

It measures neither our wit nor our courage, neither our wisdom nor our learning, neither our compassion nor our devotion to our country, it measures everything in short, except that which makes life worthwhile.

That's why I come back often in my meandering thoughts—a little like my meandering speech today—to why we should be not only measuring gross domestic product, which is essential, not only talking about the economy growing in Australia but we should be talking about things like the economy growing in a sustainable and equitable manner, about it delivering for everyone, in particular those who are worse off, and we should be talking about economic growth being a vehicle for us to support everything that makes life worthwhile.

Innovative, inclusive and resilient Australia should be a bipartisan objective, and I think it is. But I come back to where I started: it might depend on how you define those words and how you use them. Resilience is used at the moment for everything from a quarantine facility in the Northern Territory to helping children who are struggling to return to school after years of COVID shutdowns. We talk about it a lot in the context of the climate change debate. We talk about it a lot in the context of people who have suffered serious health conditions and seem able to get on with their lives. We talk about it in terms of businesses and whether they can survive. But what does resilience really mean and how is it connected to wellbeing? Does resilience mean we accept more floods, more bushfires, more extreme weather events by building more resilient infrastructure that can resist such events? Does resilience mean that we build an economy that is resilient to the use of non-renewable energy sources by fighting the impacts of climate change? I don't have the answers to all those questions, but it's a conversation that's worth having more broadly.