Policy and advocacy

St Vincent’s Health Australia is committed to speaking out on behalf of vulnerable groups as an advocate for justice in health care.

Whether through meeting politicians and their advisers, talking to the media, or by joining other like-minded organisations in campaigns, advocacy is critical to SVHA’s identity as a Catholic health care provider.

In 2017-18, SVHA played a lead role in advocating against voluntary assisted suicide (VAD) after separate legislation was introduced into the Victorian and NSW Parliaments.

While the Victorian legislation ultimately passed the parliament, the original bill was significantly amended, reflecting several of SVHA’s concerns, including:

  • halving the time – from 12 months to six months – when a patient can be eligible.
  • VAD to be recorded on a person’s death certificate as the manner of death.

At the outset of the campaign, we had a clear goal to improve access to high quality end of life and palliative care so it was rewarding to see the Victorian Government announce a new package – with $62 million in additional funding – to address concerns about poor access to palliative care, particularly in regional and rural parts of the state; and establish an independent review of palliative care funding, with SVHA’s Deputy Chair, Patricia Faulkner, as one of its members.

In NSW, the private member’s bill to introduce VAD was successfully defeated.

Another area of focus for SVHA’s advocacy in 2017-18 was the Federal Government’s legislative effort to introduce a two-year drug testing trial for a vulnerable group of around 5000 income support recipients.

Policy and Advocacy

SVHA’s advocacy against the trial was informed and led by its addiction medicine specialists at its hospitals in Sydney and Melbourne. Their view was that not only would the trial not work but that its provisions would see crucial income support taken away from vulnerable people, placing them at even greater risk of harm.

SVHA’s advocacy began by offering the government its assistance in redesigning the policy to meet its stated ambitions – helping people with alcohol and drug dependence access treatment while staying in touch with employment and training opportunities – but it was declined.

In response, SVHA joined with other organisations – such as the Royal Australasian College of Physicians – in urging Federal MPs and Senators to vote against the trial and by pursuing media coverage over its concerns.

At the time of writing, while the drug testing trial bill passed the House of Representatives, it appears likely to be blocked in the Senate with Labor, the Greens, Centre Alliance and Independents publicly voicing their opposition.

Finally, SVHA’s advocacy team worked closely with colleagues in the Aged Care and Mission teams to support and celebrate the successful Eltham Project – a two-year initiative to provide medium-term accommodation and settlement support for refugees from Syria and Iraq at a St Vincent’s aged care village in Eltham in Melbourne’s north-east.

Launched in 2016, the Eltham Project was an effort to help accommodate some of the 12,000 extra refugees Australia accepted in the wake of the humanitarian crisis in Syria and Iraq.

SVHA’s advocacy team provided advice and support to St Vincent’s Care Services to counter efforts by fringe extremist groups to block the initiative and create fear in the community. It worked to profile the success of the program and make the case for the benefits to Australia in welcoming refugees.

Policy and Advocacy
‘Welcome to Eltham’ Refugee Settlement Support Workers from CatholicCare. Photo credit: Lara McKinley