The Observatory

Q&A with Lisa Briggs

In the fourth interview of our Q&A series Vision 2020 Australia talks to The National Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation’s (NACCHO) CEO, Lisa Briggs, about Investing in Healthy Futures for generational change: NACCHO 10 Point Plan 2013-2030, comprehensive primary health care and the people who have inspired her during her career. Ms Briggs has a wealth of experience in the field of Aboriginal health, predominantly within the Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Sector.

  • Ms Briggs, as you know, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people experience a burden of disease 2.5 times higher that of other Australians, as well as lower health and life expectancy rates.Can you explain the role of NACCHO in improving Indigenous health in Australia?

NACCHO is the national authority on comprehensive Aboriginal primary health care with a membership base of over 150 Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Services.  NACCHO’s role is to provide national, high level and strategic direction and advice to inform all policies which impact Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Services and the health and wellbeing of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. 

  • NACCHO recently released the Investing in Healthy Futures for generational change: NACCHO 10 Point Plan 2013-2030, what are the goals that guided the development of this plan?

In 2008, NACCHO was one of the leading key stakeholders to sign up to the flagship document Close the Gap Statement of Intent.  NACCHO was also a key member of the national Close the Gap Committee which developed a set of key targets which later formed the CoAG CTG measure of reducing child mortality rates and increasing the life expectancy of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.  While the NACCHO 10 point plan is clearly built upon with these foundational documents, the NACCHO Plan has been designed specifically to address the long term strategic focus of our Affiliates and the Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Services sector through to 2030.

The Plan’s goals are aligned to existing targets and measures with the flexibility to adapt and monitor over time.  The goals are also reflective of NACCHO principles and our sector’s commitment to holistic health care – not just service delivery.  The NACCHO 10 point plan provides a clear framework for NACCHO, the Affiliates and our member services to utilise as an accountability tool to ensure that we are able to reach our targets through to 2030.

The NACCHO 10 point plan can be accessed here.

  • Do you support the World Health Organisation’s view that comprehensive primary health care instead of a disease focused approach is central to achieving health benefits? Can you explain why?

The Aboriginal Community Controlled Health sector philosophy is based upon the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) definition of comprehensive primary health care.   Therefore, the design and implementation of Aboriginal Community Controlled Health services focuses upon achieving holistic health benefits rather than simply addressing the task of reducing disease.  Recently NACCHO launched its inaugural “Healthy Futures for generational change” – Report Card which demonstrated the Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Services model of service and delivery has been able to achieve a 66% reduction in Child Mortality with an overall reduction of overall mortality by 33%.  This evidence suggests the best practice model of service to achieve health gains is to be found within the Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Services sector

  • With the Federal Election looming, what key eye health / health messages do you want the Australian Government and the Coalition to take notice of and commit to?

NACCHO is seeking support for the development and adoption of a range of Eye Health Targets for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people which will form an important part of the existing Closing the Gap reporting to Parliament delivered by the Prime Minister. 

  • NACCHO advocates the need to provide Aboriginal people ownership of their own health at a local community level; can you explain why this important?

NACCHO’s principle philosophy of Aboriginal Community Control is founded upon a rights based model which ensures Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have the right to determine our own holistic health needs as well as the service delivery systems and models to address them.  Please refer to the NACCHO website for more information on what community control means across the health sector.

  • Ms Briggs, what inspired you to work in the area of Aboriginal health and whathas been a highlight for you in your role as NACCHO CEO?

There are so many people who have inspired me to work in Aboriginal health over my life!  Here are just some of them:

Aunty Alma Thorpe Victorian Elder – the longest servicing CEO of the Victorian Aboriginal health service in Melbourne.  Aunty Alma’s incredible passion for the rights of her people put me on the path that I am on today.  Her daughter Glenda Thorpe was an Aboriginal health worker who treated me when I was 12 years old when I had never been treated in a clinic by an Aboriginal person before. I felt very proud. From that day on, I wanted to be like her and do what she does: helping her own people.

Culturally, my mother and father provided me with the teaching and learnings along my life journey that provided me with an identity, connection to my homelands and a strength and sense of belonging that builds a strong foundation. My parents instilled in me the knowledge and practice of keeping myself socially and emotionally well.  They also gave me a sense that anything was possible!

Professor Hugh Taylor, the eminent Australian ophthalmologist, has shown me how non-Indigenous Australians are able to work effectively with commitment and passion alongside Aboriginal people resulting in significant gains for the whole of Australian society.

When Aiden Ridgeway became the leader of the Democrats, I was both proud and inspired. This was a crucial moment for me in Aboriginal history and a testament that we as a Aboriginal people can be at the head of political parties.  Since then we have seen more Aboriginal people in Parliament.  I consider Aiden to be a trail blazer as he worked against all the odds through intense commitment and made me think that passion and drive can get you there in the end.

I also have to mention Aunty Naomi Mayers, the CEO of Redfern Aboriginal Medical Service, who established the first Aboriginal Medical Service in the country. NACCHO now has 150 members, and it all started because this remarkable woman decided she had seen enough of her people dying younger and getting sicker because of their lack of access to comprehensive primary health care.

Finally, I have been CEO of the National Aboriginal Community Controlled Heath Organisation (NACCHO) for just less than 12 months and am passionate about the huge impact Aboriginal people can have if they control their own health outcomes. 

  • And finally, on a personal note, can you tell us something that most people don’t know about you / or would be surprised to know about you

I am a Gunditjmara Aboriginal woman from the western district of Victoria and readers may be interested to know that I am an Aboriginal Health Worker by trade and have worked in the health field for the past 25 years, predominantly within the Aboriginal community-controlled health sector.

My mantra is ‘nothing stops me!’