Health Justice Australia Conference 2023
I acknowledge the Wurundjeri people of the Kulin Nations as the Traditional Custodians of the lands on which we meet today, and pay respects to their Elders, past and present. I also extend that respect to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people here today.
I acknowledge survivor advocates and people with lived experience who are in attendance and thank them for sharing their expertise.
I would also like to acknowledge Meena Singh, the Victorian Commissioner for Aboriginal Children and Young People, and a long-term friend of the legal assistance sector.
Finally, I extend my warm thanks to Dr Tessa Boyd-Caine and the team at Health Justice Australia for inviting me to speak here this afternoon. I’d like to recognise the work of Health Justice Australia in organising this conference, and all the speakers on the program for making the time to contribute their unique perspectives on the broad range of topics you have all been discussing.
Value of Health Justice Partnership
Health justice partnerships and integrated service models are playing an increasingly critical role in the delivery of legal assistance. Legal need is often connected to other needs, in particular healthcare, and these models recognise and reflect that. This important work that you do reaffirms my view that legal assistance cannot and should not exist in a vacuum. Health justice partnerships foster unique pathways designed to better facilitate access to justice for vulnerable and disadvantaged people.
I would like to thank everyone here for your contributions.
Whether you are from the legal, health or social services sector, whether you are in front-line service delivery, research, funding, policy development, or generously share your lived experience, your work is important.
You contribute to addressing inequality, reducing instances of domestic and family violence, and improving health and mental health outcomes. You uphold the rights of vulnerable people to live their lives safely, securely and in good health.
And today you all gather here to further enhance this important work. The value of health justice partnerships should not be understated.
Research tells us that people experiencing social isolation, disadvantage or trauma often do not recognise their problems intersect with the justice system. While they may not seek legal assistance, people will often present to other services in the community such as doctors or community care organisations to seek medical or psychological help.
Health justice partnerships identify this critical intersection point and seek to equip health professionals with the skills to recognise when a person might be encountering a legal problem. Through this training, partnerships can enable discreet and efficient referrals, often delivered by co-locating legal professionals in a health setting.
In this way, health justice partnerships play a critical early intervention role. As you would all be aware, legal issues can evolve into more serious and complex problems when left unaddressed, and when people do seek legal help themselves, they often only do so at a crisis point. The trusted, timely guidance from a partnership service can make a real difference in someone’s life before an issue escalates.
Health justice partnerships understand that legal, health and other problems are often intertwined, and are most successfully resolved when approached holistically. Partnership service models focus on the whole individual, to ensure that problems are not exacerbated or compounded, and to avoid disadvantage becoming entrenched. These service models recognise that people and the issues they face do not exist in silos, and that wraparound services are the most effective way to limit the likelihood of retraumatisation or disengagement.
Health justice partnerships have grown to more than 100 – including Melbourne Community Legal just down the road. In my many interactions with health justice providers, I have been impressed. Your ability to deliver trauma-informed services that provide medical, legal and pastoral support to your clients, demonstrates this sector’s continuing commitment and investment in client welfare.
Your work ultimately supports, and is supported by, the vital work undertaken by the health and social services sectors. I recognise the value of these intersections needs to be taken into account when we consider what legal assistance should look like in the future, including how we resource it and how we measure its success.
Supporting government priorities and addressing key social issues
Health justice partnerships also play a valuable role in supporting a number of Australian Government priorities. These include ending violence against women and children and responding to the abuse of older Australians.
Operating at the intersections of the health and legal sectors, health justice partnerships are uniquely placed to respond to a number of pressing issues, such as family and domestic violence, child protection, substance abuse, tenancy and housing, and issues arising from individuals’ experiences of mental ill-health or disability.
Innovations and challenges
As most of you would know, health justice partnerships began as a practitioner-led movement, driven by community lawyers who identified the need to collaborate with health services to improve client outcomes and to encourage earlier and better engagement with the justice sector. Health justice partnerships now operate across the country, in every state and territory.
Despite this national coverage, each health justice partnership is unique. Part of what makes partnership and integrated services so effective is that they cater to the specific communities that they serve.
Of course, this uniqueness can also present challenges. Developing and maintaining a service partnership requires commitment and genuine trust – to identify competing priorities, to consider the broad range of client and patient needs, and to work collaboratively to find meaningful solutions that work for the partners and the people they are there to serve. What you do is no easy feat.
However, the success of health justice partnerships and the achievements you are sharing at this conference are testament to the dedication, drive and capability of those who facilitate and participate in these partnerships, as well as the outcomes that can be achieved by working together.
In a world of growing complexity and uncertainty, the importance of robust and innovative social, health and legal services cannot be understated. Innovation is by its nature challenging, meaning that gatherings like this one are all the more important. I’m sure that you will all be able to take away important lessons from this conference.
NLAP, and the NLAP Review
The National Legal Assistance Partnership is a key mechanism through which the Australian Government supports the work of legal assistance providers. The National Legal Assistance Partnership is the primary source of Commonwealth funding for the legal assistance sector and is delivering more than $2.4 billion over five years to community legal centres, legal aid commissions, and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Services.
The Australian Government is proud to support the innovative service delivery models that health justice partnerships embody through the National Legal Assistance Partnership. I also understand that a number of legal assistance providers have used other National Legal Assistance Partnership funding to establish and run health justice partnerships, targeted at issues such as mental health.
As many of you would be aware, the National Legal Assistance Partnership is currently undergoing an independent review, led by Dr Warren Mundy. This review is an opportunity to ensure the legal assistance sector is equipped to face current and future challenges. The review’s terms of reference include an evaluation of the integration, collaboration and innovation of service delivery, within the legal assistance sector and with other areas of social service provision such as health and disability.
I sincerely thank everyone who has contributed to the review, through submissions and through meetings with Dr Mundy. I’ve been told the review has received over 100 submissions. It’s fantastic to see such a high level of engagement in this important process.
The review’s final report will be completed in early 2024 and will inform future funding and policy arrangements for the legal assistance sector.
Stepping down of CEO, Dr Tessa Boys-Caine
I would also like to take this opportunity of acknowledging the contribution of Dr Tessa Boyd-Caine who has recently announced that she will be stepping down as CEO of Health Justice Partnerships at the end of January 2024.
Since Tessa was appointed in 2016 she has built Health Justice Partnerships as a national centre of excellence with the aim of improving access to legal assistance through established partnerships of trust. The growth of this service delivery model is a testament to Tessa’s leadership.
Tessa, I congratulate you on your success and wish you all the best for whatever your new endeavours may be.
Thank you again for the invitation to speak here today. I wish you all very interesting and productive discussions for the remainder of the conference.