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Health Justice Australia to 2026: Complex problems need complex solutions

When the idea of a national centre of excellence in health justice partnership first started percolating around 2013, its stated purpose was to catalyse the expansion of health justice partnership. But the inclusion of advocacy as a central activity within the health justice partnership model opened up the possibility for a much broader impact, in the opportunity to identify and tackle the structural issues that shape the experience of health and justice in people’s lives. Now, as we share our thinking about our strategy to 2026, systems change plays a key role in our intended impact.

Since Health Justice Australia’s establishment in 2016, we have worked steadily to identify the systemic issues that play a role in our work and the activity on those issues that would most likely advance our intended impact. This is one of the newest and clearest elements of our Strategy to 2026. It is an element that I am deeply committed to personally. And it is an element that I am really interested to test with the people we work with and for.  

Our work with practitioners over the past four years has honed our clarity about the role of health justice partnership as a collaborative service model tackling complex problems in people’s lives. We define ‘complex problems’ as the multiple, intersecting health, legal and social problems that affect people’s health and wellbeing; that hold people in cycles of disadvantage.  

Yet as we have supported health, legal assistance and other practitioners to work better together around the needs of the people they are here to help, we have become acutely aware of the complexity of the service systems that they are operating within.  

Child care and protection is a clear example. At their heart, Australia’s child protection system identifies certain kinds of risks and then removes children from those risks. Those decisions are important and may even be necessary sometimes. But if we want to prevent children, young people and families from entering the child protection system over time, then we need to do much more than identify risk. We need to build or restore health and wellbeing to the lives of those children and their families. To achieve that outcome requires a significant shift, not just in how services work with individual families, but in how the child care and protection system operates as a whole.  

Mental health is another. Successive inquiries including the Productivity Commission most recently have identified the fragmentation of services and access points that undermine any chance of a unified system and make it harder for people to access the help they need, where and when they need it. This critique will resonate for many people at risk of or experiencing family violence, and the services who support them, who are failed by similar systemic problems. 

Despite continuing investment in knowledge, services and innovation over time, the systems that we set up to support people experiencing complex health, legal and social problems can themselves drive or exacerbate complexity in people’s lives.  

These systemic barriers are the focus of Health Justice Australia’s systems change agenda. Tackling them to improve health and justice outcomes is our intended impact. We are already working with health and legal assistance practitioners and service leaders who are the levers for change in the service system. Over the next few years we want to extend our collaboration to the people who use these services; communities who are the experts not only in their own problems but in how best to solve them. And we want to bring this expertise into the work with the policy-makers and those who design, fund and implement our service systems. Complex problems need complex solutions. We’re up for it, but only through collaboration can we tackle these problems. I’d love to hear from you about this agenda and I hope you will join with us to achieve it.