Cancer Council Pro Bono Press – Edition Two 2019

Message from Michelle Smerdon, National Pro Bono Manager

MS pro bono

Every day people call into our Information and Support Line, 13 11 20, here at Cancer Council. Our trained consultants talk to patients, carers and people interested in knowing more about cancer. We talk to people about cancer treatment, the experience of caring for a loved one, the outcome of a recent research study, the side effects of treatment. We provide information and booklets, and we refer people onto vital support services. We rely on our wonderful referrers and pro bono supporters to share the message – we are here so that no one needs to face cancer alone. Thanks to our referrers and volunteer professional service providers, so far this year we have been able to provide legal, financial and workplace support to just over 700 people affected by cancer, and we are looking forward to assisting many more.

In this edition, we highlight the upcoming changes in superannuation legislation and the importance of people affected by cancer understanding these changes, as well as showcasing the terrific support provided by our human resources professionals within our Workplace Referral Service. Over May and June, we also attended a number of Australia’s Biggest Morning Tea events to share information about the support services, prevention, advocacy and research happening at Cancer Council and to say thank you to all our supporters.

We hope you enjoy this edition and thank you all for your contributions to the Cancer Council Pro Bono Program.  

Warm regards


Michelle Smerdon, National Pro Bono Manager

Australia’s Biggest Morning Tea

One Australian is diagnosed with cancer approximately every 5 minutes, the length of an average tea break. That’s why over May and June every year, friends, colleagues and communities come together for morning tea as part of Australia’s Biggest Morning Tea.

Australia’s Biggest Morning Tea brings people together to raise funds towards providing vital support for those impacted by cancer, to ensure that no one faces cancer alone. Every dollar raised at a morning tea contributes to funding Cancer Council’s life-saving research, prevention, support programs, and information. 

Staff members of the Pro Bono Program enjoyed attending morning teas across Sydney and the chance to speak to guests about how the funds they raised contributed to funding support for people affected by cancer, such as the Pro Bono Program.

Michelle Smerdon, National Pro Bono Manager, was delighted to speak at Gilbert + Tobin Lawyers, who provide pro bono legal assistance to people affected by cancer, and shared a touching story with guests:

“Tara* worked at a large local council, in a tourist information centre. 5% of her role involved restocking information stands with brochures when supplies ran low. As a result of her chemotherapy, she had peripheral neuropathy, which made it difficult for her to walk around. She asked that the task of restocking the information stands be re-allocated to another employee, and she would take one of their tasks in return. The employer refused to do this, and said that since she could no longer do her job, he had no choice but to fire her. A lawyer on our panel helped Tara to bring a claim against her employer. She received an apology, and her old job back.”

*Name has been changed

Tara is just one of over 15,000 people who have been assisted through the Cancer Council Pro Bono Program, thanks to funds raised at events such as Australia’s Biggest Morning Tea.

The Pro Bono team would like to thank everyone across the country who hosted, attended or donated to a morning tea.

AMBT pro bono press

Cancer patients at risk of losing vital insurance from 1 July 2019

Legislation has been recently introduced to protect Australians’ superannuation savings from undue erosion by fees and insurance premiums. However, these changes could see thousands of people with significant health conditions lose access to much needed life or TPD insurance, when they may not even be aware this insurance exists.

These changes come into effect on 1 July 2019 and could affect anyone who has been unable to work for long periods, affected by cancer or otherwise. From 1 July, individuals with inactive superannuation accounts, those that have not received any contributions or rollovers for more than 16 months, will have their insurance cancelled unless they opt to keep their insurance policies. People have until 30 June 2019 to either opt in to keep their insurance, or to make a contribution to their account. Failure to do this before 1 July could mean people find themselves financially stranded at a time without income or any financial stability.

Cancer Council’s latest blog explores these changes and what this means for cancer patients in particular:

“Many of the cancer patients we assist don’t know that there is insurance attached to their superannuation fund. Additionally, people may not be opening mail or reading emails from their superannuation fund, particularly while going through treatment or at another stressful time. So, it’s likely that those affected will not be aware this insurance will be cancelled and could be left in the lurch at a time when they need support the most.”

Cancer Council implores anyone who may be affected by these changes to call their superannuation funds to determine if they need to opt in to any insurance available through their policy.

Read the full blog here.

Workplace Referral Service in the spotlight  

With an estimated 1.1 million Australians living with cancer, there is undeniably a large proportion of individuals in the workforce affected by cancer. Cancer Council Pro Bono Program’s Workplace Referral Service was established to assist people affected by cancer navigate their workplace entitlements or returning to work after a diagnosis by connecting individuals with HR professionals and has recently been showcased in a number of forums.

Poster pro bono press

Pro Bono Case Manager Laura Muir presented a poster on the Workplace Referral Service at the Cancer Survivorship Conference 2019 in Sydney.

This poster outlined the pressing need to address the significant challenges that cancer patients and their carers face in the workplace. The poster highlighted that since it was introduced, the service has connected over 750 people affected by cancer with vital professional support to help navigate workplace issues related to their cancer diagnosis. View the poster here. 

The Workplace Referral Service was also highlighted by HRM, the news site of the Australian HR Institute. The article, titled “How HR can support employees who have cancer,” featured the work of Lucy Wilson, Director of People and Culture at Leadbolt, who assists people affected by cancer with their workplace issues through the Pro Bono Program. Lucy says: 

“We need more workplaces asking ‘how can I help?’ If this was about your number one person – your CEO – getting sick, don’t tell me you wouldn’t look after them. So what happens if it happens to anybody else, how are you going to help them?” Read the full article here. 

National Volunteer Week (20-24 May)

20–24 May marked National Volunteer Week. This is the largest celebration of volunteers in Australia and an opportunity to acknowledge the amazing contribution that our dedicated volunteers make to Cancer Council. Nationally, over 20,000 volunteers play crucial roles in cancer prevention, fundraising, administration and providing information and support for people affected by cancer.

Volunteers play a crucial role in the delivery of the Pro Bono Program, from our legal interns to our professional lawyers, financial advisers, HR professionals and accountants. Thanks to the support of these volunteers, so far this year we have been able to provide legal, financial and workplace support to 702 people to alleviate their financial burden and allow them to focus on their health. We would like to take this opportunity to extend a huge thank you to all volunteers involved in the Pro Bono Program. 

Our team celebrated National Volunteer Week with our volunteer legal interns through indulging in afternoon teas and a number of fun activities, such as trying out our artistic talents painting pots – featured below. 

Volunteer week pro bono press

Pro Bono in the news

How much does it cost to have cancer? The Sydney Morning Herald (April 2019)

I was 31 when I was diagnosed with breast cancer – it cost me so much. The Guardian (April 2019)

Ask a policy expert: why is it so hard to get on the disability support pension? The Guardian (May 2019)

National Pro Bono Day 2019. Australian Pro Bono Centre (May 2019)

Superannuation changes could strip vulnerable Australians of insurance. ABC News (June 2019)

Cancer Council pro bono work helping the vulnerable. Money Management (June 2019)