Healthy Futures at the Health and Environmental Sustainability Conference

Jacqui Dunn and Harry Jennens recap Healthy Futures' successes at the Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation ‒ Victorian Branch's Health & Environmental Sustainability Conference this year. Friends of the Earth affiliate Healthy Futures is an organisation of health professionals, students and community members working to address climate change on health grounds. Their main current campaigns are for health super funds HESTA and First State Super to divest from fossil fuels.

The Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation ran their inaugural Health and Environmental Sustainability Conference only four years ago, and now it has grown to become one of their yearly conference highlights. Another year, another great conference, with inspirational leaders from science, cooking, farming, nursing, and holistic care speaking to over 560 nurses and midwives.

The Healthy Futures team of volunteers gathered early on the Friday morning to prepare for a full day of campaign conversations. We gained a few early petition signatures on the street before people even entered the conference site. Some of us were lucky enough to be able to attend the conference as well, and were treated to a line-up of mind-blowing speakers, including:

  • Stephanie Alexander, cook, restaurateur and food writer on her Kitchen Garden Program and the links between food, sustainability and health;
  • Professor David Karoly from the University of Melbourne on the science of global warming and the urgency of action;
  • Tracie Lund from Morwell Community Health with a first-hand account of the effects of the 2014 Hazelwood Coal Mine Fire on health of the local community;
  • Victoria McKenzie-McHarg from the Australian Conservation Foundation with an uplifting overview of the strength and achievements of the Australian climate movement; and
  • Robyn Whiting, Sharon McNulty, Louise Wright and Ros Morgan with stories of success in implementing sustainable practises in their health workplaces.

Over the course of the day hundreds of people visited Healthy Futures' stall to learn more about our campaigns and sign our petitions calling on HESTA and First State Super to divest from fossil fuels. Many were horrified to find that their hard earned super is being invested in the fossil fuel industry and contributing to ill health in our communities!

Special thanks to Victoria McKenzie-McHargh and David Karoly who both encouraged conference attendees to visit our stall and sign our petitions. We even had two representatives from First State Super visit our stall to see what all the fuss was about. We offered to take solidarity photos with them as well but they said they'd probably have to run it past their managers first. Maybe next time!

Overall the conference was a major success for us, with 110 new signatures for our petitions and many new friends made! Every year the conference has proved a valuable opportunity for nurses and midwives to network with like-minded individuals and organisations. It gives us great new ideas, and a yearly motivational push to keep inspired, and carry on initiating and maintaining change in our workplaces for greater environmental sustainability.

After our conference success we held a strategy meeting in May to work out our next steps. We have an all-star team to help us out, including doctors, nurses, physiotherapists, medical scientists, community organisers and more. We are able to draw on the great experience and far-reaching contacts of all these members to work successfully towards education and encouragement of divestment from fossil fuels.

Sign up to our mailing list at www.healthyfutures.net.au

If you're a HESTA or First State Super member, sign our petitions at www.healthyfutures.net.au/divest (or for other super funds, check out www.superswitch.org.au)

If you have any questions about our campaigns or would like to get involved, please contact jacqui@healthyfutures.net.au or harry@healthyfutures.net.au

Published in Chain Reaction, national magazine of Friends of the Earth Australia, August 2016