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Penelope Upton
Making connections: a systems approach to Tackling Indigenous Smoking

Penney Upton is Associate Professor at the University of Canberra and the Population Health Research and Knowledge Officer for the National Best Practice Tackling Indigenous Smoking. Penney is an applied researcher, whose work addresses fundamental questions related to the improvement of health and healthcare across the lifespan. Her research interests can be divided into four main topics: changing risky health behaviors, patient reported outcomes, the implementation of evidence based practice and health service evaluation. Penney was a key member of the University of Canberra team that undertook the review of The Department of Health’s Tackling Indigenous Smoking Program in 2014.


The Tackling Indigenous Smoking (TIS) program has been funded by the Australian Government Department of Health (DoH) since 2010, as part of the ‘Closing the Gap' initiative. In 2015, a revised version of the program was launched, which committed to supporting regionally funded organisations to deliver evidence-based activities designed in consultation with local communities. In an innovative move, this support was to be delivered through an independent entity, the National Best Practice Unit for Tackling Indigenous Smoking (NBPU TIS).

Sourced through an open tender process, NBPU_TIS operates as a consortium led by Ninti One Ltd., a not-for-profit Indigenous business registered with Supply Nation. Consortium partners include the University of Canberra Centre for Research and Action in Public Health (CeRAPH) and Edith Cowan University’s HealthInfoNet. The Unit provides program funded organisations with a range of support including evidence-based resource sharing, information dissemination, advice and mentoring, workforce development, and training in monitoring and evaluation.

Funding an independent National Best Practice Unit represented a new step for DoH, one which has provided opportunities as well as challenges to those involved in the process. We describe how the program has been transformed since 2015, particularly for teams working in rural and remote communities, and the impact it has had on the health and wellbeing of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people living in rural and remote areas. We also consider in detail how the voice of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people has influenced policy-makers thinking in relation to the program.

We demonstrate that the success of the program is underpinned by collaboration within and between communities, organisations and services. We argue that this systems orientated approach to Population Health Promotion is the only way forward if we are to address the unacceptable health inequities experienced by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people living in rural and remote communities. We explore how the insights gained from the work of NBPU TIS with the regionally funded organisations can influence future policy and action to enable better access and equity to relevant services and ensure that we continue to be ‘Better Together’.

Presentation | Paper