The third year of our Action Agenda for Health Promotion has brought plenty of opportunities for VicHealth to continue building on a strong position and solid fundamentals as a leading health promotion organisation.

Jerril Rechter

Chief Executive Officer

It also tested our capacity to adapt, react, and manage complexity and the unfamiliar. It provoked us to sharpen our focus because of the pace of change in the health and wellbeing environment.

Through it all, VicHealth has completed the financial year 2015–16 with positive achievements through the support of our partners, the dedication of our staff and the guidance of the VicHealth Board.

All of our work aligned to our five strategic imperatives and focused on high-impact health promotion, following the transition we made in the first two years to implement the Action Agenda. Our programs aligned to the Victorian Government’s health priorities, and we welcomed the release of the updated Public Health and Wellbeing Plan by the Minister for Health, The Hon. Jill Hennessy MP.

Long-standing partnerships continued to be a core value and process, and we are proud to have collaborated with both old and new partners across all levels of government, health promotion, research, sports, arts, workplaces and innovation.

This past year, we were proud to partner with Our Watch and ANROWS to launch the first integrated approach to primary prevention in Australia through Change the Story: a shared framework for the primary prevention of violence against women and their children in Australia. With PwC and Our Watch, we released research showing that in Australia, the cost to society of violence against women and their children is $21.7 billion annually. We gathered leading experts in preventing violence against women and gender equality in a two-day conference to share their expertise in tackling this health issue, ahead of the Royal Commission into Family Violence.

We actively participated and contributed to policy, making submissions to the Royal Commission of Family Violence and the Hazelwood Mine Fire Inquiry, among others. We support their recommendations and look forward to contributing to the implementation of preventive health actions with our experience in health promotion and social determinants of health.

Our Leading Thinker initiative went into full drive, including trials to bring the concepts of behavioural insights to life. We have delivered seven trials, eleven workshops to over 400 public sector and non-profit professionals, seven fully subscribed public lectures, and a continuing international partnership with What Works Centre for Wellbeing in the UK and the Victorian Department of Premier and Cabinet, focusing on mental wellbeing and resilience. These have allowed us to share new insights into how behaviour can inform policy and practice. We were delighted that the Department of Premier and Cabinet and Department of Health and Human Services were key partners in the inception of the Leading Thinker initiative.

We also convened Australia’s largest citizens’ jury, Victoria’s Citizens’ Jury on Obesity, which brought together over 100 everyday Victorians to deliberate and then offer a range of suggestions to increase the availability of healthy food options, reduce the appeal of junk food and improve understanding of healthy eating. Their suggestions were the basis for their 20 asks, which have been submitted to a steering committee of government leaders and health and industry experts. VicHealth has committed to responding to eight of the asks.

We helped ‘change the game’ by investing in women’s sport and active recreation, building momentum for gender equality in sport and raising the profile of women as sport leaders. In a sporting first, in August 2015, an AFL women’s exhibition match between Melbourne and the Western Bulldogs was broadcast live, finally giving our female footballers the recognition they deserve and inspiring thousands of girls across the country to get involved in the sport. VicHealth also became one of the major partners in the inaugural Women’s Big Bash League in December 2015–January 2016, working with the Melbourne Renegades’ and Melbourne Stars’ cricket teams in their first season, the popularity of which was instrumental in moving women’s matches from digital to main broadcast television.

We continued to fund the Quit Program with our largest ever investment, and as an organisation, we are one of the biggest investors in tobacco control in Australia.

These are just some of our successes this year. Through our five strategic imperatives of promoting healthy eating, encouraging regular physical activity, preventing tobacco use, preventing harm from alcohol and improving mental wellbeing, we continue to deliver work that addresses the conditions and factors that impact health, and reach communities where they live, learn, work and play. We continue to support the creation and translation of knowledge to inform our decisions and to evaluate our work. We have adopted a robust framework to measure our impact, as well as how our work is making a difference to those whose social position places them at greater risk of illness and lack of wellbeing.

Capping off our financial year is the development of our new three-year priorities for 2016–19. Evidence is our backbone, so we reviewed current literature and research, and held conversations to inform these priorities with community leaders and key stakeholders in regional Victoria in partnership with the Victorian Regional Community Leadership Program, and in metropolitan Melbourne. The updated Action Agenda, launched in July 2016, has an even clearer direction for each of our strategic imperatives, which gives us greater confidence to approach health challenges and further build our distinctive capabilities as a leader in health promotion.

Our focus for the future of each of our five strategic imperatives:

  • Promote healthy eating: Over the next three years, in response to the community support shown by and actions suggested by the Citizens’ Jury on Obesity, we will advocate and support evidence-based action to improve the eating habits of all Victorians. We will give particular attention to highly processed foods and drinks that add significantly to the burden of chronic disease in our state by working to reduce salt consumption, working with industry partners to reduce salt in processed food, and making water the drink of choice in Victoria.
  • Encourage regular physical activity: We will help even more Victorians make physical activity a routine part of everyday life, particularly women and girls. Over the next three years, we will also continue to invest in one of the most effective strategies to increase physical activity across the whole population: making it easier and safer to walk for short trips and active recreation.
  • Prevent tobacco use: We will continue to support what we know works to reduce the rates of current smokers and preventing uptake: motivating and supporting smokers to quit. Over the next three years we will continue to advocate for policies and practices that help Victoria lead the fight against tobacco, in Australia and internationally. We will try innovative approaches, in settings and with groups where smoking remains all too common.
  • Prevent harm from alcohol: We will continue to make the case for control measures on the price, availability and promotion of alcohol, based on evidence that this can reduce community harm. Building on our world-first alcohol culture change framework, over the next three years we will work with partners to test new ways of changing behaviour in specific high-risk settings and groups.
  • Improve mental wellbeing: Over the next three years, VicHealth will implement our Mental Wellbeing Strategy. We will forge new partnerships with sectors that can make a difference to the resilience and social connection of young Victorians, such as sports, arts, workplaces, education and government. We will work closely with young people themselves to build the evidence for what works, and we will work with partners to put the findings into practice. We will deliver innovative approaches in priority settings to increase gender equality and build on our work on preventing of violence against women.

Our goals do not exist in isolation from each other. To achieve these strategic imperatives our actions need to focus on the underlying forces driving health and equity in Victoria. Over the next three years, VicHealth will focus efforts on three critical areas where the social determinants of health meet: gender, youth and community. Our actions will include:

  • Gender: Working with key partners in a range of settings, most notably sporting associations, to advance gender equality as a social determinant of health
  • Youth: Working with young people and our partner organisations to build environments supporting a healthy youth across the state
  • Community: Working with Victorian communities (be they defined by place or social identity), particularly those experiencing disadvantage and exclusion, to promote the drivers of good health and wellbeing.

"2015–16 has been an exceptional year and I would like to thank each staff member at VicHealth for their determination and commitment to our work, and their encouragement of each other as we sought to explore new approaches to achieve our vision of one million Victorians with better health and wellbeing by 2023."

I congratulate and thank all of VicHealth’s partners including our colleagues across the Victorian Government who shared our vision and worked with us and others for common goals. We are indebted to our partners and the community leaders in regional Victoria and metropolitan Melbourne who took part in our Action Agenda refresh consultations, and whose advice helped inform our updated plan for 2016–19.

I would like to thank our Board for their expertise and support in navigating old and new challenges. I especially acknowledge our past Chair, Emeritus Prof John Catford, for his expertise and guidance over the last four years, and am excited to welcome our new Chair, Ms Fiona McCormack, who brings to VicHealth her experience from many years of leading community change.

I am grateful to the Minister for Health, The Hon. Jill Hennessy MP for her support and tireless advocacy for health equity. I also thank the Minister for Mental Health, The Hon. Martin Foley MP, the Minister for Sport, The Hon. John Eren MP, the Minister for Women and Prevention of Family Violence, The Hon. Fiona Richardson MP, other Ministers, and their Advisers for their guidance and support.

On behalf of the VicHealth team, I look forward to next year, using the strong core achieved in VicHealth’s first 30 years to enable current and future Victorians achieve better health and wellbeing.

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