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Farewell to two Health Justice Australia founders

Fiona McLeay and David Hillard were foundational members of Health Justice Australia’s board. They were instrumental in the establishment of the organisation, the recruitment of our founding CEO, Dr Tessa Boyd-Caine, and the stewardship of our strategy.

As they step down from the board on July 3 2024, we pay tribute to their part in establishing Health Justice Australia and their ongoing commitment to access to justice and positive systems change.

We asked them to reflect on their time at Health Justice Australia, and tell us about what’s next for them.

Fiona McLeay

How did your role at Health Justice Australia begin?

The short answer to this question is that I was the founding chair of Health Justice Australia and hired the founding CEO, Dr Tessa Boyd-Caine. The longer answer is that I have a long-standing professional passion to see the integration of legal and health services and the transformation of health and social services to be more patient/client centric.

Like many lawyers who are driven by the importance of ensuring everyone, especially people experiencing vulnerability, have access to legal help, it was so obvious to me that the traditional model of lawyering wasn’t working. By traditional I mean “one to one” services, where a client comes to a lawyer in their office and discusses their legal problem. The reality is that people’s lives are complicated and they often don’t realise that a lawyer could help them, and they wouldn’t know how to find one even if they wanted to.

Integrated service delivery is better for clients, it’s better for health and welfare providers, and ultimately improves the system as a whole. Establishing Health Justice Australia as a centre of excellence for this way of working was the culmination of many years of community lawyering and conversations with like-minded lawyers who wanted to do things differently and see this model expanded.

What are you most proud of from your time with us?

Over the last eight years, Health Justice Australia has helped to move this way of working from a niche idea to one that is increasingly at the centre of the way lawyers and policy makers think about service delivery. It’s also supported the development of a wonderfully skilled and engaged cohort of practitioners around the entire country. One of the proudest moments was hearing Attorney-General, the Hon Mark Dreyfus QC MP speak about the importance of the model as part to the way that community legal services are delivered.

What are our greatest opportunities?

There are a number of aligned movements that Health Justice Australia can tap into – people-centred justice, human-centred design, the valuing of lived experience expertise, and an openness in many levels of government to different ways of trying to solve increasingly entrenched problems. The health justice partnership model has something to say in all these spheres.

At a practical level, the release of the National Legal Assistance Partnership (NLAP) review and the finalisation of the next NLAP funding agreement presents opportunities.

What will you miss most?

So many things! Conversations about evidence and data with Suzie, thinking about deep partnership with disparate groups with Lottie, strategising about models for financial sustainability, working with such a talented, hard-working and modest board, and the delight in seeing the organisation grow and thrive. I’ll be watching on from the sidelines and continuing to cheer you on as you move into the next phase under Sheree’s leadership.

What’s next for you?

I have stepped into the role of co-chair of Equality Australia and in June I will take over the reins as chair of the Australian Communities Foundation. So I will continue my involvement in the for-purpose sector, and continue to work with organisations who are focused not just on direct help to people, but also – equally importantly – on moving the dial so that we are not forever simply responding to where the system fails people, but are improving the system itself.

David Hillard

How did your role at Health Justice Australia begin?

In my day job as pro bono partner at Clayton Utz, I was always thinking about what could be done to catch people who fall through the cracks of access to justice. I had heard some American pro bono colleagues talk in the early 2000s about the idea of sending lawyers into hospitals to reach people who might otherwise never go to find legal help. It always intrigued me, but it wasn’t until 2010 or so when Peter Noble and Fiona McLeay and I started talking the idea around, that the possibility of really doing something here began for me.

At some point, the penny dropped that in the (then) over one hundred pro bono victims compensation matters which I had run for survivors of domestic violence, almost all of my clients had spoken to someone in the health system about what had happened to them years before they had ever sought out legal advice.

Long story short, I was lucky to have the support of my law firm and its charitable foundation over a number of years to really explore with others what would become known as health justice partnerships (HJP). Peter Noble (then running the legal practice at Loddon Campaspe Community Legal Centre, and now a member of the Health Justice Australia board) was funded in 2011 to conduct extensive research of the United States model, which in turn produced his authoritative Advocacy-Health Alliances: Better Health Through Medical-Legal Partnerships report in August 2012.

We held an Australian Advocacy-Health Alliances Symposium in Melbourne in November 2012, which was probably the first event to raise the HJP model’s benefits to a broader audience of legal and medical practitioners and social service organisations. In turn the Clayton Utz Foundation adopted one of Peter’s recommendations to scope and then establish a pilot Advocacy-Health Alliance in Bendigo as a demonstration of the effectiveness of the model. That service, located at Bendigo Community Health began formally in January 2014 under a three-year grant.   

I kept involved in this idea of reshaping access to legal assistance, along with a core group of other meddlers visionaries, and in turn became part of the Health Justice Partnership Network in Victoria and the Legal Aid NSW Health Justice Partnerships Community of Practice. Our ambitions grew, and in July 2015, to celebrate Clayton Utz reaching the 500,000 pro bono hours milestone, my firm announced that we would fund Justice Connect to establish Health Justice Australia.

A steering group was established, consisting of Fiona McLeay and Deborah di Natale (of Justice Connect), Jane Cipants (of NSW Legal Aid), Dr Nicole Woodrow (from The Royal Women’s Hospital), Dan Stubbs (Inner Melbourne Community Legal), Dr Greg Stewart (South Eastern Sydney Local Health District) and me, to establish the legal entity, and recruit a board and a CEO by March 2016. We recruited the bundle of energy and wisdom that is Tessa Boyd-Caine, and Health Justice Australia was off and running. It has never stopped.  

What are you most proud of from your time with us?

That Health Justice Australia is such a professional and effective organisation, championing a quiet revolution in how our health and justice systems work and talk together. In eight years, Australia has gone from a handful of examples of legal assistance available from inside the health system, to more than 120 partnerships across the country. I am astonished by the level of change in such a short space of time, and hugely proud of the leadership which Health Justice Australia has demonstrated every day. I will always be delighted to have been an inaugural board member.

What are our greatest opportunities?

To support health policy makers and funders to understand the real systems benefits for them of HJP, alongside the community benefits. I want to see a day where every new public hospital and healthcare service plans to include and fund an HJP as part of its day to day operation. Health Justice Australia’s leadership is essential in demonstrating why we need, and how we make happen, such a significant public health and legal assistance policy shift.  

What will you miss most?

This fantastic team of people who are committed to an ambitious cause. (I mean, how hard can it be to get the massive silos of health and justice to work better together to improve their systems and our lives, right?) Please invite me to your social events. Please …

What’s next for you?

Continuing to make legal help more accessible in Australia by championing pro bono work across the legal profession.