[ Photo courtesy of Di McIntyre ]
Gavin Mooney was born in Glasgow in 1943 and went on to study economics at the University of Edinburgh. He then worked as an actuary for an insurance company. Gavin taught and researched economics at universities in the UK, Denmark and Norway before moving permanently to Australia in 1993.
His partner, Delys (Del) Weston, had only recently completed her PhD on the political economy of global warming, a subject both were absorbed by. Gavin and Del died together, victims of violence. It is a supreme irony that such a peaceful and non-violent couple died in this manner.
Ms Tanya Plibersek, the Commonwealth Minister for Health, said the passing of Gavin and Del was a tragic loss for the health community, both in Australia and internationally.
“Professor Mooney was a fearless advocate for social justice, and in particular the role of citizen juries, leading debates on the importance of consumers in determining how their health resources are allocated,” she said.
“A ‘rare breed’ of academic, his capacity to bridge theory and practice was evident throughout his career and semi-retirement. Not only did he write the defining book on citizen juries, but then demonstrated their application in health priority setting, juvenile justice and Indigenous health. His close engagement with a number of Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisations exemplified his hands-on approach.
“Described as ‘one of the founding fathers of health economics’, his research was driven by real world challenges and geared towards identifying practical solutions.
“He was an inspiring teacher and supervisor, which when coupled with his extensive publication record, will ensure his legacy persists.
“Dr Weston had recently been awarded her PhD on ‘The political economy of global warming’ from Curtin University, and held previous academic appointments at the University of Tasmania and the University of KwaZulu-Natal in Durban, South Africa.
“We have lost a fearless campaigner for equity in health and advocate for human rights.”
Gavin helped establish the Centre for Health Economics Research and Evaluation in Sydney, becoming the first professor of health economics at the University of Sydney. Gavin went on to establish the Social and Public Health Economics Research Group. Inequality was Gavin's main intellectual interest and the common thread linking his interest in the economics of Indigenous health, social justice and support for the role of communities in decision-making about their health systems.
Gavin seemed driven by an almost visceral contempt for a world dominated by inequality, unsustainability and short-termism. He published 20 books and energetically pursued his ideas in frequent shorter publications and letters. The Age published a letter from Gavin on the day of his death questioning why Foreign Minister Bob Carr said he was very proud of Australia's foreign aid contribution given that Australia was 16th out 23 countries listed by the OECD in terms of aid spending as a proportion of gross domestic product.
Gavin's greatest contribution has been to the field of health economics. He influenced many younger economists around the world. Thousands in many countries learnt about basic health economics principles and concepts from Gavin. Many also learnt about Gavin's values from the principled way he lived his life. Around the world there are health researchers and professionals greatly influenced by his teaching, ideals and, above all, his values. Gavin's professional world involved ideas and abstract concepts utilised not for their own sake but to significantly improve people's lives.
Gavin was never afraid to question the powerful or swim against the current intellectual tide. He remained deeply suspicious of neo-liberal economic approaches. The global economic crisis of recent years demonstrated that his concerns were more than justified.
It will be no surprise to learn that people in powerful positions did not always welcome Gavin's advice. Yet there is little doubt that Gavin's tireless activities had some influence.
Our task now is to continue to value and be inspired by Gavin's and Del's contributions and values. Above all, to remember the corrosive effect of inequality on the many who are poor but also on the few who are rich, and to think about how inequality can be most effectively and sustainably reduced.
On learning that Martin Luther King had been murdered hours earlier, Robert Kennedy spoke to a crowd quoting the Greek playwright Aeschylus: “Even in our sleep, pain which cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart until, in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom through the awful grace of God.” Kennedy called upon men and women of his country to “dedicate ourselves to what the Greeks wrote so many years ago: to tame the savageness of man and to make gentle the life of this world.” We could do worse than remember these inspiring words when we think of Gavin and Del.