New Federal Treasurer, Jim Chalmers, has indicated his intention to deliver a Wellbeing Budget in October, modelled on the New Zealand template.

Sounds good; but how do we interpret the term and more importantly how do we assess its impact? 

Most Australians would understand “wellbeing” as being a state of good health, both mentally and physically, but aren’t Budgets more about dollars, and hopefully sense?  

What could the Treasurer be thinking? 

Well, I am not an economist but I do know something about wellbeing and the financial cost to the nation when the population is not in a good mental or physical space; let me explain. 

Australia has some of the highest rates of diabetes, stroke, kidney, arthritis, cancer and heart-related problems, to name but a few, in the OECD. Addressing these ailments after they have become a problem is a significant and ongoing cost to the Federal Budget.  

Mental illness, dementia and suicide affect more than 2.8 million Australians with an estimated annual cost to the national economy alone of $220 billion per year.

It is difficult to overstate the wellbeing benefits of exercise and physical activity. They encompass reduced risk of heart, diabetes, stroke and dementia, improved sleep, reduced risk of depression and anxiety and reduced risk of a range of cancers including breast, colon, bladder, kidney, lung and stomach. 

This all sounds very depressing and even more so when we consider the nation is facing immediate cost-of-living pressures, and longer-term, a trillion-dollar debt. What a legacy to leave for succeeding generations. 

However, there is a way for the Treasurer to save money, achieve better community health outcomes, improve social capital and reduce the long term Budget allocation for serious illness management and rehabilitation. 

The Solution 

Well-designed Public Health campaigns have a proven record of success; think “slip slop slap” and the Quit Smoking programs, and those of a mature age will remember fondly Norm and his “Life. Be in it” campaign encouraging Australians to get off the couch. 

Research commissioned by AUSactive late last year and reinforced by international research undertaken by Deloitte in early 2022, demonstrated that for every $1 spent in preventative health there is a return on investment of between $3-6.  

The implementation of a public preventative health campaign should have bipartisan support. It would also follow the previous government’s 2018 commitment when it signed up to an international campaign to get 15% more Australians more active by 2030. Unfortunately, very little was done to activate the campaign or make any progress in achieving the 2030 target.  

Over the past two years, Australians have been constantly reminded to exercise to help cope with the worst effects of Covid-induced lockdowns and soon their attention will be drawn to the upcoming Commonwealth Games and 2032 Olympics and Paralympics.  

There will never be a better opportunity, or rationale, for the new government to invest in a campaign encouraging universal participation in exercise and physical activity.

The next Federal Budget bottom line will benefit, an overstretched Health profession and infrastructure will benefit and so will the wellbeing of Australians. 

Isn’t this what a “Wellbeing Budget” should look like?