Jane Halton is back in the news today for comments about the relative impact of smoking and gambling.
The former secretary of the federal departments of Health and Finance joined the board of Crown Resorts Limited last November, and faced her first AGM this week — in particular shareholder activist Stephen Mayne, who is also a spokesperson for the Alliance for Gambling Reform.
Mayne challenged Halton over taking the gig, given her prior profession in public health. Halton responded that she can bring her knowledge to the casino-owning organisation to improve its approach to harm minimisation. According to Fairfax Media’s report of the AGM, Halton said:
“There is an absolute distinction between tobacco, of which there is no safe level of consumption, and something which for many Australians is recreation.
“I have a huge commitment to public health approaches to all sorts of things in life. Harm minimisation is a basic tenet of the public health approach.
“I would not sit on a board of a tobacco company because there is no level of tobacco smoke that is safe.
“I was at the forefront of a series of things in the Australian public health context, particularly plain packaging, which my department administered. We proposed it and we were delighted to have it taken up.
“I do think we should make a distinction. Much like there are guidelines around what is a safe level of alcohol consumption.”
Halton is a member of the Crown board’s Occupational Health and Safety Committee and Risk Management Committee. Her other director roles include director of ANZ and Clayton Utz, and current chair roles include Vault Systems, Council on the Ageing Australia, the Norway-based Coalition of Epidemic Preparedness Innovations. In academia and research, where Halton began her career, Halton is on the board of the Institute of Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington, Adjunct Professor of the University of Sydney and the University of Canberra and Council Member of Australian Strategic Policy Institute.
At the time of her retirement, Halton was the longest serving secretary of the Australian Public Service, only the second woman appointed as a secretary and the first woman appointed as secretary of a central agency. Rosemary Huxtable succeeded her at Finance.