In 1987, the Victorian Parliament established VicHealth, the world’s first health promotion foundation, as part of the Tobacco Act. Thirty years on, as we reflect on a host of achievements we acknowledge there is still much to do.
VicHealth’s creation represented a significant policy change for the Victorian Government and this new entity had to be established quickly in a challenging landscape. The pragmatism and drive of the founders and first staff team set the tone for VicHealth as a dynamic and innovative organisation, and those values hold true today.
Persistent and emerging health issues continue to challenge us, while the rapid pace of global change we are seeing in technology, society and sustainability require corresponding shifts in our thinking. VicHealth has already shown the necessary adaptability, which is evidenced in our updated Action Agenda for Health Promotion (Action Agenda).
In July 2016, we released Destination Wellbeing: VicHealth’s updated Action Agenda, setting out how we will achieve our goals. Destination Wellbeing builds on the inaugural Action Agenda, released in 2013, which for the first time set out a 10-year action plan for VicHealth that reflects the changing environment in which we operate.
With the completion of the fourth year of our Action Agenda – and the first year working towards its 2016–19 priorities – we can see the progress and are well-placed to respond to the challenges and opportunities we face.
VicHealth’s ground-breaking contribution to global health promotion and the people of Melbourne over the last 30 years was recognised with the prestigious Melbourne Achiever Award. At the awards event in May, the Committee for Melbourne acknowledged VicHealth as a significant and sustained contributor to evidence-based health promotion that will leave a lasting legacy, a fitting tribute in our anniversary year. This is recognition of the efforts of past Boards and staff members of VicHealth over the past 30 years.
We have seen much change since our inception, as well as enduring health issues. Obesity is steadily increasing, particularly in marginalised groups. Smoking rates have halved and alcohol consumption is reducing overall, but smoking and risky drinking continue to cause significant harm, particularly among populations or groups experiencing disadvantage. Our lifestyles have become increasingly sedentary over the past 50 years. Fewer than one in three Australians gets enough physical activity to benefit their health. Two in three Victorian adults, and one in four of our children, are overweight or obese. Violence continues to be the most significant contributing risk factor to Victorian women’s health and lives before the age of 45.
Most people drink alcohol responsibly but almost 500,000 Victorians drink 11 or more drinks on a single occasion on a monthly basis. Overall, young people are drinking less and starting to drink later in life than previous generations, but some are still drinking large amounts and are unaware that binge drinking can cause permanent brain damage. While we are working to address the societal pressure to get drunk, we are hampered by alcohol being so cheap, readily available and widely promoted.
Successful public health strategies over several decades have seen smoking rates in Australia decline steadily, to be among the lowest in the world. But rates remain high in groups experiencing disadvantage. In Victoria, smoking leads to the loss of around 4000 lives every year, and costs the state over $10 billion.
Almost half of all Victorians will experience a mental illness in their lifetime, with the first onset of symptoms most common in teenagers and young adults. One in eight young Victorians say they are intensely lonely. Global employment trends including moves towards automation and digitisation are changing the job market for young people and creating new challenges that will mean they need greater resilience and social connection.
We are pleased that the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals for 2030 include a new gender equality goal that presents a much stronger view than the earlier, corresponding Millennium Development Goal. Rather than focusing on access to education, it takes a broader view. As well as focusing on reforms to ensure equal access to economic resources, the goal requires women to have full and effective participation in political, economic and public leadership. Underpinning this is the vital call for the elimination of all forms of violence against women.
I congratulate the Victorian Government on the release of its Free from violence strategy in response to the recommendations of the Royal Commission on Family Violence. The implementation of this strategy, including the establishment of the first family violence prevention agency, is set to have a huge impact over the coming years. The strategy builds on the evidence in Change the story, Australia’s national prevention framework launched by ANROWS, Our Watch and VicHealth in 2015.
By ensuring that all our strategies and programs are backed by rigorous evidence, VicHealth continues to be a trusted friend to our many partners and the communities we serve. VicHealth has looked to collaborate with new and different partners, as well as developing our existing partnerships, to tackle our new challenges. These partnerships in sectors including health, arts, sports workplace education and digital, as well as across all levels of government, help us expand the reach of our work and to co-design innovative solutions that can be integrated across the community.
We continue our focus on behavioural insights through our Leading Thinker initiative as a means to drive change. We are heartened to see this approach featuring in the work of our partners and numerous government agencies. The creation of a behavioural insights unit within the Victorian Department of Premier and Cabinet and the inclusion of behavioural insights related drivers in the Victorian Government’s Gender Equality Strategy, Safe and Strong, are very positive developments.
On behalf of the VicHealth Board, I would like to thank the Victorian Minister for Health, The Hon. Jill Hennessy MP, for her support and leadership. I also thank the Minister for Mental Health, The Hon. Martin Foley MP, the Minister for Sport, The Hon. John Eren MP, other Ministers and their Advisers, Members of the Victorian Parliament, and the government departments and agencies, who have supported VicHealth this year. Our work for the people of Victoria unites us and allows us to achieve much together.
I would like to pay tribute to the late Hon. Fiona Richardson, Minister for Women and Prevention of Family Violence, who passed away in August 2017. Fiona was a fearless advocate for women and children who had experienced the terrible toll of family violence. She also had the courage to share her own personal story, shining a light on the devastating impact of violence against women. We must all continue to build on Fiona’s incredible legacy.
I am very grateful to the members of the VicHealth Board and Committees, who have been trusted advisers and have made an invaluable contribution to our work during 2016–17. I thank Deputy Chair Nicole Livingstone OAM; Board members Susan Crow, Nick Green, Margaret Hamilton AO, Collen Hartland MLC, The Hon. Wendy Lovell MLC, Veronica Pardo, Sarah Ralph, Simon Ruth, Natalie Suleyman MP, Stephen Walter; and new Board members in 2016–17: Dr Sally Fawkes and Ben Hartung.
I would like to thank our past Chair, Emeritus Professor John Catford, for his immeasurable contribution during his two years as Chair and two years as Deputy Chair. John helped to shape VicHealth’s priority directions in the Action Agenda. I also wish to acknowledge the valuable contribution of Sally Freeman, whose term as Chair of the Finance, Audit and Risk Committee ended in October.
As Chair of the Board, I am pleased that VicHealth continues to practice strong corporate governance with balanced budgets, contemporary policies, progressive planning and effective resource management. This is a tribute to our Board, Finance Audit and Risk Committee, staff and CEO. Jerril Rechter continues to be an inspiring and influential leader for VicHealth and has been a tremendous support to me in my first year as Chair. Thank you Jerril. I would also like to congratulate her on being named in The Australian Financial Review & Westpac 100 Women of Influence 2016.
Success in health promotion does not happen in isolation – it takes a coordinated approach from across the community. I am grateful to VicHealth’s many and varied partners for your support and inspiration over the year. The commitment from our partners and the skills and experience of the VicHealth Board and staff will propel us towards our vision of: One million more Victorians with better health and wellbeing by 2023.
With this said, it is my great pleasure to present these highlights of our achievements for 2016–17.
Chair of the Board, VicHealth