People living in the Latrobe Valley experiencing poorer health and greater levels of disadvantage than the rest of the state need urgent funding and an innovative place-based approach to tackle it, the latest report from the Hazelwood Mine Fire Inquiry has found.
The Hazelwood Mine Fire Report 2015/16: Volume III Health Improvement report, tabled in Victorian Parliament this week, two years on from the Hazelwood Mine fires, says “immediate attention” is needed to address chronic disease management, mental health conditions and family violence prevention in the Latrobe Valley region.
The strong recommendations follow on from the Inquiry’s 2014 report, which found that people living in the area faced significant health challenges, did not enjoy the levels of health and social wellbeing of most other Victorians, and were also socially and economically disadvantaged relative to the rest of Victoria, which was further exacerbating their health conditions.
The 2015/16 report recommends more state and federal funding and the creation of a formal ‘Health Innovation Zone’ funded for a minimum of eight years, to promote innovation, integration and community engagement. It also cited place-based approaches such as the Healthy Cities approach adopted in many countries and Go Goldfields in Maryborough Victoria as good examples for working towards better health and reducing inequity in the Latrobe Valley.
The 2015/16 report also found Aboriginal people in the Morwell region experience significantly poorer average health, education and employment outcomes than the non-Aboriginal population and are less likely to access mainstream community and health services. It recommends establishing an independent community controlled health organisation and a new culturally appropriate health and community facility for the Latrobe Valley Aboriginal community.
“This Inquiry has found people in communities in the Latrobe Valley are facing increasing levels of disadvantage and that this is affecting their health,” VCOSS chief executive officer Emma King said.
“The 2015/16 report outlines positive, sustainable ways of supporting the health and wellbeing of people in these communities, who are experiencing higher levels of disadvantage and poorer levels of health than the rest of the state. VCOSS is pleased to see the strong recommendations in the report focusing on place-based, community building approaches to working towards better health and reducing inequity for people across the Latrobe Valley region.”
VCOSS submitted to the Hazelwood Mine Inquiry that the Latrobe Valley community has a strong appetite to re-establish a sense of place and pride, including among its residents, businesses, community organisations, schools, local government and industry.
It also stressed the particular need to focus on education, strengthen the community sector, and invest in collaborative social initiatives to address the complex social problems faced by the community.
“We believe the aftermath of the mine fire presents a unique and significant opportunity to take a transformational approach to reinvigorate the community and reduce health inequity, through working collaboratively with the community members and local community organisations,” Emma King said.
“VCOSS welcomes the findings and recommendations made by the Hazelwood Mine Fire Inquiry and looks forward to responses from the Commonwealth and Victorian governments to them.”
Thumbnail image: Flickr Takver