Condolences for Professor Anthony McMichael

1 October 2014

I spoke in parliament to offer my condolences for the death of Emeritus Professor Anthony McMichael AO, and recognise his major contribution to our understanding of the links between climate change and human health.

Emeritus Professor Anthony J. McMichael AO passed away on 26 September 2014 at the age of 71. Tony was a world-famous Australian epidemiologist who most recently was at the Australian National University until 2012, where he held a National Health and Medical Research Council fellowship and was a member of the Science Advisory Panel to the Australian government's Climate Change Commission. The citation for Tony McMichael when he was the ACT finalist for the Australian of the Year awards in 2010 described him as:

… the world's leading scholar and commentator on the relationship between global climate change and human health.

He graduated in medicine in 1967 from the University of Adelaide and, after a short stint in general practice, he did his doctorate in epidemiology at Monash University and post graduate work at University of North Carolina. Returning to Australia, he became Foundation Chair in Occupational and Environmental Health at the University of Adelaide. From 1994 to 2001 he was Professor of Epidemiology at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. He returned to Australia as director of the National Centre for Epidemiology and Population Health where he served from 2001 to 2006.

A measure of Professor McMichael's world-renown is in his over 300 peer-reviewed publications, 160 book chapters and two sole-authored books. He was a fellow at Chatham House, elected in the US National Academy of Sciences and was an Officer of the Order of Australia. Having been a member of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change from 1993 2006, he was therefore by definition a co-recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize in 2007.

As well as all of his academic successes, Tony was an accomplished pianist. In the best traditions of the Australian National University, he was not only at the cutting edge of the academic research but also deeply involved in policy debates. During his years in Adelaide, as Bob Douglas has reminded me, he was leading international investigations in water fluoridation, breast cancer screening and contributing as a member of the Scientific Council of the International Agency for Research on Cancer. One of his last public acts was the publication of an open letter to the Prime Minister, co-signed by a group of public health and scientific colleagues, urging the Prime Minister to make climate change a central element of the G20 talks.

Bob Douglas said, 'McMichael brought an enormous lustre to the centre and to our University. He has led a punishing international schedule since he came to the ANU in 2001.' Since his death, Colin Butler has written on his blog:

If we are to survive as an advanced, wise and compassionate species, the work of people like Tony will increasingly be realised recognised as fundamental to the shift in which we are engaged.

ACF president, Ian Lowe, wrote:

Tony was not just a giant in his field with a deserved global reputation but also a delightful colleague and a warm and empathetic human being.

Roberto Bertolini, from the WHO, said:

Thank you dear Tony. You have been an example of integrity, professionalism and commitment which I will never forget.

I worked with Tony McMichael on a forum on inequality held in Parliament House in January this year, spearheaded by Bob Douglas, and I enjoyed an exchange with him. I was going back through my emails and found that our last email exchange in January this year was him trying to persuade me of the dangers of growth—quoting Herman Daly and William Ophuls—and me trying to persuade him of the merits of it, quoting Bill Gates.

Tony McMichael is survived by his brother, Philip, an eminent sociologist, his wife, Associate Professor Judith Healy, another brother, Robert, his daughters, Anna and Celia McMichael, and four grandchildren. He leaves a legacy not just in the academic but also in the policy realm. Groups such as Doctors for the Environment Australia, the Climate Institute, the Australia Institute and the Frank Fenner Foundation have acknowledged the debt that they owe him. Our earth is finer for Tony McMichael having walked upon it, having contributed his ideas to the realm of academia and having brought his passion to policy debates which will affect us and our grandchildren. I honour his memory and the work that he did during his 71 years.


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