Inaugural FHMRI Healthy Communities Symposium Explores Bridging Research and Policy Gap


The inaugural FHMRI Healthy Communities Symposium was held on Thursday 11 May at Tarntanyangga (Victoria Square) in Adelaide.

Over a hundred delegates attended in person or online, many of whom were our partners from Government and Communities organisations, including the Chief Public Health Officer, Professor Nicola Spurrier.

Isaac Hannam, a young Kaurna and Ngarrinjeri man provided a highly appreciated Welcome to Country, including experiences of his lineage that provided significant historical context for the day and some wonderful didgeridoo playing.

Professor Helen Milroy, Australia’s first Indigenous medical doctor and highly regarded expert in child and adolescent psychiatry provided an uplifting keynote address on the topic of Cultural Safety in Health and Medical Research. Helen talked about ways of knowing, ways of doing, and ways of being in a general context, before describing the Transforming Indigenous Mental Health and Wellbeing Project. Helen concluded with an incredible story about two worlds on either side of a river and the need for a bridge to allow people who originated on either side of the river to be able to spend time in both ‘worlds’. Helen’s presentation included a wide selection of her drawings, including the fantastic ‘Dance of Life’ [below].


Two sessions either side of lunch provided a showcase of the breadth of research being undertaken by FHMRI researchers in the fields of Public Health, Rural and Remote, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health and Mental Health and Wellbeing across South Australia and the Northern Territory. These sessions featured 22 short talks from PhD students to Discipline Leads.

The day concluded with a panel session on the topic “Public health interventions: bridging the research policy gap” chaired by Professor James Smith (Deputy Dean, Rural and Remote Health) with panellists:

  • A/Professor Carmel Williams, Director Centre for Health in all Policies Translation, Health Translation SA
  • Professor Ray Mahoney, Professor of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health and Discipline Lead for Population Health, Flinders University
  • Dr Sean Taylor, Executive Director Aboriginal Health & Diversity, NT Health
  • Dr Christabelle Darcy, Assistant Director, Program Evaluation Unit, NT Department of Treasury and Finance.

The panel discussed the low level of spending on public health interventions in Australia and the difficulties of getting politicians and their advisors to consider the long-term benefits of public health interventions. There was discussion about the political nuances of engaging with policy-makers and policy-making processes, with policy process likened to sausage making, and that it’s probably best that people can’t see how the various influences, industry, ministers, community leaders, advocates, and evidence are combined to form policy. Despite this, Christabelle emphasised the role of well-crafted research briefs – flat and factual, plain language summaries which aim to make research more accessible to policymakers. Sean emphasised the importance of including economic analyses when undertaking research and engaging with policymakers around public health interventions.

The event was well received by participants, in addition to the engrossing and motivational nature of Professor Milroy’s keynote address, participants commented on the value of the research snapshots provided by FHMRI researchers that illustrated the broad range of research being undertaken within the Healthy Communities theme. A similar event is planned for 2024.

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