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After the Victorian election, some expert advice for Premier Daniel Andrews and colleagues

Croakey is closed for summer holidays and will resume publishing in the week of 9 January 2023. In the meantime, we are re-publishing some of our top articles from 2022.

This article was first published on Wednesday, November 30, 2022.


Introduction by Croakey: The decisive Victorian election result – following media predictions of a hung Parliament or a minority Labor Government – has raised questions, yet again, about how mainstream media covers election campaigns.

Writing in The Conversation, senior journalism academic Dr Denis Muller suggested that the Herald Sun had acted throughout the election campaign “as a propaganda arm of the Liberal Party”.

Alison Barrett surveyed health and community leaders in Victoria for their foremost suggestions for Premier Daniel Andrews and his Government.


Alison Barrett writes:

Victorian health and community leaders have urged the re-elected Labor Government to do much more to address the social determinants of health, including critical justice concerns, to invest more in prevention, and to ensure equitable access to healthcare.

Labor’s election campaign, including a “positive plan for health”, was big on announcements for new or redeveloped hospitals, and included free nursing and midwifery training, expanded eligibility for free IVF and new women’s health clinics.

However, many health policy analysts were concerned ahead of the election that Labor’s health election promises lacked focus on substantive health policy reform or initiatives to reduce inequities.

According to Victorian health and community leaders surveyed by Croakey, much more can be done to ensure equitable access to healthcare, to reduce impacts from the climate crisis and improve the mental and physical health and wellbeing of Victorians.

As outlined below, they have called for the Labor Government to increase investment in addressing the social determinants of health and to raise the age of criminal responsibility to 14.

They also have some pointed suggestions for media organisations.


Improve health messages and political critique

Dr Tess Ryan, academic and writer

Q: What is a key short term ask for the new Government for health and health equity?

There needs to be recognition of the inequities in the health system currently as access has been further diminished due to COVID for many marginalised groups. GPs are hard to come by, waiting lists are long and costs are rising. Then the action needs to follow of more training, a bigger budget and better infrastructure to support health services in diverse communities.

Q: What can the health and community sector do to promote healthier public policy in Victoria?

I believe there needs to be better communication processes that come from government towards the sector. We saw from previous ‘lost in translation’ health messages from 2020 that the government needs to communicate more effectively with the community sector. They should first ask the sector what needs must be addressed before anything else. Then the community sector needs to be conveying those messages towards a ‘fit for purpose’ message for their communities. For instance, ACCHOS take what directives are given and translate the policy into something that will resonate with that community. Other parts of the sector could really take direction from them as an example.

Q: What messages would you like the media to take from the election result?

It would be so refreshing in this era to see media agencies recognise that the loudest voices aren’t necessarily speaking for many. There was such a focus with this current election on the “Anti-Dan” movement, and yet that was only a vocal minority. This suggests that the media aren’t giving genuine critique to either side of politics, which further destroys the ability of those in the general public to choose. We should all be in a phase of trying to rebuild through what has changed in society since COVID, so I’d like to see more of a focus on that.


Aboriginal health in Aboriginal hands

Jill Gallagher, CEO at Victorian Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation (VACCHO)

Q: What is a key short term ask for the new Government for health and health equity?

In Victoria, more Aboriginal people have died in custody in the last five years than the previous 25. There is no greater inequity than that suffered by Aboriginal people in jail, exacerbated by the Commonwealth Government withholding Medicare.

The Victorian Government is the only state government that contracts a private company to provide healthcare in prisons. This has to stop.

When an Aboriginal man died in a Canberra prison, the Government did something about it – it funded Winunga Aboriginal Health to provide services inside the jail. Not one Aboriginal person has died in custody since.

The new Government must fund Aboriginal health services to provide health care in prisons.

Q: What can the health and community sector do to promote healthier public policy in Victoria?

Before the election, the Victorian Government and VACCHO signed an Aboriginal Health and Wellbeing Partnership agreement to improve the care Aboriginal people receive in mainstream health services and to grow Aboriginal-controlled health services.

We can only achieve this if the Government and our partners in hospitals, community health services, mental health and family services fully commit to reforms and increasing resources in the Aboriginal health sector. Putting Aboriginal Health in Aboriginal Hands must drive the public policy agenda.

Q: What messages would you like the media to take from the election result?

The Victorian Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation (VACCHO) congratulates Daniel Andrews and the Labor Party on their re-election over the weekend and calls on the Government to continue to place Aboriginal health and wellbeing in Aboriginal hands.

VACCHO has been pleased to partner with the State Government to deliver positive health and wellbeing outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities in Victoria and looks forward to continuing to tackle the systemic injustices that have maligned Community for far too long.

The State Government was bold and brave in putting Treaty on the agenda. Now the State Government must be bold and brave in putting Aboriginal health in Aboriginal hands.

VACCHO look forward to working in close collaboration with the State Government to address the glaring disadvantages that continue to have a devastating impact on the health and wellbeing of Community.

Despite the challenges, Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisations continue to be beacons of light and hope – that provide holistic, wrap-around health and wellbeing care for a community that are largely doing it tough.

I implore the re-elected Victorian Government to prioritise properly resourcing Aboriginal organisations – meaningful commitments that go beyond election cycles.

If Government invests in putting Aboriginal health in Aboriginal hands, we will create vibrant, self-determining communities and our Boorais will grow up to shape the future for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in Victoria.


Elevate lived experience

Simon Katterl, Mental health and human rights consultant

Q: What is a key short term ask for the new Government for health and health equity?

The Victorian Government must get the appointments for the forthcoming Mental Health and Wellbeing Commission right. The current Mental Health Complaints Commissioner has failed, and the reform agenda rests on an effective systems leader and regulator. That regulator needs to more effectively work with, while also holding to account, mental health services and the Victorian Government. The Victorian Government’s legacy on mental health reform will depend on these appointments and the success of the Commission.

Q: What can the health and community sector do to promote healthier public policy in Victoria?

The health and community sector need to develop new and innovative ways to ensure lived experience leadership in their organisations. Services have historically been funded and governed on pre-formulated understandings of what people want and need. With the introduction of the National Disability Insurance Scheme and reforms in the mental health landscape, there’s an understanding that this power relationship needs to be inverted. In markets that still receive substantial “block” funding (as opposed to the NDIS model of individual contracting through care packages), organisations and systems need to develop meaningful mechanisms to drive new models of care and culture change. Advisory groups that don’t adequately pay members and aren’t authorised to make real change are proving increasingly dated. New inter and intra-organisational governance mechanisms are needed.

Q: What messages would you like the media to take from the election result?

The news cycle on state politics appears to be focused on very physical and tangible items: level-crossings, electricity commissions, trains and hospitals. These things are of course, very important. However, that focus on things can come at the expense of long-term investments in public health and addressing the social and corporate determinants of mental health. Because these topics lack a physical embodiment, they are less “sticky” in the community’s minds and the news cycle.

One way I hope that cycle can be changed is through greater elevation of people with lived experience. People’s individual stories invite readers into their world, and importantly, they often have a different story of the world that needs to be better understood. I participated in a round-table prior to the election period to assist a news outlet to set their agenda. It was a useful one-off event, but a deeper understanding for media organisations about the issues that matter come from fostering trusting relationships of dialogue with communities, as Croakey has done recently with the #SpeakingOurMinds series. It’s something for other outlets to consider to be able to elevate different stories at the next election.


Build on current programs, community engagement and workforce

Dr Ruth De Souza, Vice-Chancellor’s Fellow at RMIT University

Q: What is a key short term ask for the new Government for health and health equity?

Given our collective experiences/witnessing of the health inequities that were laid bare during the pandemic (which continues) and the impacts on the health system and workforce:

Improving trust and confidence in the health system, particularly around health communication with racialised groups and avoiding carceral responses. Plus, community engagement in setting priorities, that would also involve developing health literacies and cultural safety.

Building on “soft” infrastructure (rather than hospitals and big building projects). In order to activate the incredible networks and constellations across Victoria with organisations that have specialised skills and capabilities in inter-cultural, multi-lingual communication and health literacy. There’s already work that is happening that could also be trialled and scaled up elsewhere, for example the Paving the Way Forward (PTWF) initiative which aims to find better ways of working alongside residents at the Flemington and North Melbourne public housing estates.

Retaining the current workforce: At RMIT, a group of us organised an exhibition of Nurses and Midwives’ experiences of the pandemic. Art was an incredible way to capture their experiences. We matched them up with art students and produced wonderful exhibition and public events. The key thing that came up for the Nurses and midwives, was how tired they all were. I know that there’s significant investment happening in terms of increasing numbers and creating incentives for them to remain in Victoria to work. But I’d like to see some kind of retention strategy for experienced staff.

Can we implement cultural safety training for mainstream organisations? Cultural safety using an intersectional lens across axes of difference including ethnicity, disability, sexuality etc.

Q: What can the health and community sector do to promote healthier public policy in Victoria?

I think this sector already punches above its weight but I would add something about relationships with media and social media.


Focus on justice and inclusive policies

Julie Edwards, CEO at Jesuit Social Services

Q: What is a key short term ask for the new Government for health and health equity?

We welcome the re-elected Victorian Government’s social reform agenda which aims to give every adult and child in the state the opportunity to flourish.

In line with this, we are calling on the Victorian Government to raise the age of criminal responsibility from 10 to 14 years in 2023. Other parts of Australia such as the ACT and Northern Territory are making progress towards this (the NT has committed to raising the age to 12), and it is vital that the Victorian Government follows their lead to keep children and the broader community safe.

Children who have contact with the justice system at a young age are among the most vulnerable in our community and we know that children detained between the ages of 10 and 14 are