Prevention is bad for you, is it, Minister?

So this one got my back up.

Apparently, primary health prevention is a waste of money. So is improving the emotional intelligence of the workforce.  And, while you’re at it, any other form of self -improvement.

The article attached, by Matthew Knott, also featured in the ‘Sunday Age’ on the weekend, with the heading ‘Bureaucrats splash out on self-help and yoga’.

In it, the reporter notes that:

“People dealing with the Department of Immigration and Border Protection may expect to receive a response more sensitive to their emotional needs after it took out an $88,000 contract for its employees to improve their emotional intelligence.”


“IP Australia – an agency in the Department of Industry – is helping pay for its employees’ yoga classes. It has a $10,900 contract with Canberra instructor Swami Yogamanas Saraswati to help its employees improve their downward-facing dog and other yoga poses during their lunch break.”

“When provided with such examples by Fairfax Media, Finance Minister Mathias Cormann delivered a warning to departmental secretaries that the government expects them to spend taxpayer money wisely.

“Agencies and departments are also spending up to $90,000 each a year on “transformational leadership training” and up to $45,000 to “build resilient teams”.”

And then this one, from Pat Conroy of Labour’s ‘Waste Watch Committee’, just to cap it off:

“Where is the fairness in the Abbott Government splurging thousands of taxpayer dollars on dubious training exercises, when this could provide around 6000 visits to the doctor without a GP tax?”

* * * * *

Dear Matthew Knott, and Ministers Conroy and Cormann, the benefits of emotional intelligence, self-improvement and primary prevention are notoriously difficult to measure in non-monetary terms, but the value is very clearly there. Just to help explain, dear Matthew, I’m going to define some things for you now:

– The goal of primary prevention is to protect healthy people from developing a disease or experiencing an injury in the first place.

– The goal of secondary prevention is to detect and address an existing disease prior to the appearance of symptoms.

– The goal of tertiary prevention is to reduce the impact of disease once it has taken hold, helping people manage complicated, long-term health problems such as diabetes, heart disease, cancer.

Western medicine is notoriously bad at primary prevention, and notoriously brilliant at secondary and tertiary prevention.

How good are we at developing a pill for your high blood pressure, or your cholesterol (secondary prevention) or stenting your coronary vessels once you have a heart attack (tertiary prevention)?

And how bad are we at helping to prevent the disease in the first place – for example, sticking to a healthy diet, exercising, or perhaps – DOING YOGA AND BUILDING YOUR EMOTIONAL INTELLIGENCE SO YOU’RE NOT SO STRESSED THAT YOUR BLOOD PRESSURE BUILDS TO THE POINT THAT YOU HAVE A HEART ATTACK?

Apologies for the shouty caps, but I think Matthew needs them.

Expert consensus is that the further upstream one is from a negative health outcome, the likelier it is that any intervention will be effective.

The very idea that 6000 visits to the GP – invariably secondary or tertiary prevention – is better than primary prevention serves to reinforce the absolute insanity in the idea that ‘self help’ – always in quotation marks, either actual or implied – is splashing out. The understanding that you may also get more productivity from your happier, less-stressed workers is not even mentioned. Only the raw costs – $88000 and 20% of $10900 – which, when compared to our overblown defence budget, don’t even rate.

And the greatest irony of all, is that the only sensible thing I have read this government having done in the past twelve months… has then been criticised by their own minister.

Well done, Finance Minister.

And just to reinforce this point, watch out for Serious Wednesday next week, when I tell you how good meditation is for you.

It’ll give the minister a heart attack.


  • Dorothy says:

    Articles like this (not yours) always annoy me, because they clearly state that public servants are not valuable. Having worked in the public service for 15 years, I resent people thinking that I was just a fat cat, taking home big bonuses, sitting on my arse and not doing any work. We are PUBLIC servants, people! We do meaningful work and to say that investing in us is a waste of money is bloody disrespectful and degrading.

  • I can totally understand your frustration, Dorothy – I felt it second hand through the article; you absolutely get it at the coalface…

  • Louise says:

    The reporter (if you could call him that) sounds like he is just out to ruffle people’s feathers for good stats on his article. Maybe he wouldn’t be so negative and pessimistic if he had some yoga and self development going on in his own life!

    I’m no scientist or medical expert, but Western Culture nations are fat and sick! While the cultures that are built on spirituality and meditation are fit, healthy and live to be wicked old Ninjas! Mr Miyagi???

    Maybe if we did more Painting the Fence, we’d have less people taking stress leave from work!

  • I totally agree, Louise. Maybe I should get my chopsticks out myself, and then maybe I won’t get so hot under the collar about this kind of article!

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