McCabe Centre for Law and Cancer celebrates 5 years

Thursday 2 February, 2017

When Cancer Council Victoria and the Union for International Cancer Control came together to establish the McCabe Centre in 2012, it was with a strong belief that we could make a real impact on cancer globally. Our belief was based on three main ideas:

  • That the effective use of law is critical to all aspects of cancer control – from prevention to treatment to supportive care to research. 
  • That if we wanted to maximise the impact of law for cancer control, both as a positive force for change and by reducing the negative effects that laws can produce, we needed to better integrate legal expertise into cancer control policy efforts. Legal expertise shouldn’t be thought of as something to seek out only when a ‘legal issue’ arises. Rather, legal expertise is as essential to cancer control policy as clinical practice, research, health system design, community education programs, or individualised support for people with cancer and their families.   
  • That we needed to put effort and dedicated resources into building and sharing legal knowledge and expertise globally. Though our circumstances across countries and regions are different, we are all grappling with similar challenges. And with so much governance now taking place at global and regional levels, it is essential that we work together across regions, countries and cultures.

Five years on I am immensely proud of all that we have achieved.  You can see a timeline of our major activities and key external events over the last five years.

Our 3-week intensive legal training course held at CCV in Melbourne, primarily for government lawyers from low- and middle-income countries, has run five times so far, with more courses planned. We have run regional and country workshops with partners in Denmark, Fiji, Ghana, Indonesia, Kenya, Norway, Russian Federation, and South Africa. Altogether, we have trained over 250 government, intergovernmental organisation and NGO representatives and academic experts from over 75 countries across all regions of the world.

Through our role as the WHO FCTC Secretariat’s Knowledge Hub on legal challenges to implementation of the Convention, we have supported governments in developing strong tobacco control laws and defending their laws against tobacco industry lawsuits, and in navigating the relationships between tobacco control and international trade and investment agreements. We have been able to share a number of the lessons learned in Australia through decades of progress in tobacco control, and particularly through being the first country in the world to introduce tobacco plain packaging, and defending it against legal challenges under our constitution, in the World Trade Organization, and under a bilateral investment treaty.

We have contributed to a wide range of law reform activities in Victoria, including laws to protect people with cancer against exploitation by providers of unregulated and unproven ‘treatments’, and laws to support people to plan for their end-of-life care and ensure that their wishes are respected.

When I reflect on all that we have accomplished, it strikes me that the best and most rewarding parts are, at their heart, about making connections:
  • across cultures and countries – coming together and learning from one another’s experiences, knowledge and ways of seeing the world, in our common endeavours to achieve better health and quality of life for our families and our communities 
  • across sectors – when, for example, officials working in health and in trade find common ground and mutually supportive objectives 
  • across disciplines – when clinicians and epidemiologists and behavioural scientists and lawyers work through their different languages and ways of conceptualising problems and solutions, and realise what their combined efforts can deliver 
  • from theory and learning to practice – when we have seen our work contribute to law reform and to governments’ successful defence of tobacco industry lawsuits, and catalyse training and capacity-building activities and the development of leaders in other countries and regions  
As we reflect on our first 5 years, we also look ahead, very excited for the next 5 years and beyond.
My thanks to the wonderful McCabe Centre team, in Melbourne, Manila, Nairobi and Suva – Daiana Buresova, Sondra Davoren, Anita George, Rachel Kitonyo-Devotsu, Deborah Lawson, Wendy McMillan, Evita Ricafort, and Suzanne Zhou. Thank you for your brilliant work and your commitment to what we do.

Thanks also to all our many fantastic partners and collaborators, who are too numerous to mention here. A special acknowledgment to the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade for its generous support for our international legal training program.

We wish you all a successful World Cancer Day.Don’t forget, the theme is ‘We can. I can.’ If you’re not already involved, it’s not too late – go to

Jonathan Liberman