Julie Babineau

CEO Odyssey House
May 2021
Julie Babineau is the Chief Executive Officer of Odyssey House NSW (OHNSW), one of Australia’s largest non-government rehabilitation organisations for people seeking to overcome dependence on alcohol and other drugs, helping over 40,000 people and their families to rebuild their lives since 1977.

This weekend I will… 

…go for a trek in the Blue Mountains National Park or the Royal National Park.  Either are just a short distance from Sydney and you’d think you are in another world.  Getting closer to beautiful nature, having the choice of a mountain walk or a coastal walk, sharing this with friends – who could ask for more?  It is so important for one’s wellbeing.

I’d originally planned to work … 

…as a Physical Education teacher.  I had actually completed my undergraduate studies to be a PE teacher, taught for two semesters and….realised that it was not as easy nor as much fun as I had envisaged.   Sadly, my passion for physical activity was not shared by all high school students I met.  This said, my love for fitness is what is keeping me sane all these years later (I think so anyway!).  As Pierre de Coubertin, founder of the International Olympic Committee said: “Un esprit sain dans un corps sain” or “a healthy mind in a healthy body”.

The qualities I most value in my colleagues are … 

…integrity, respect, professionalism and creativity.  Those are crucial for good relationships, both professionally and personally.  Funny about that, these are also Odyssey House NSW’s values – there you go!

The career highlight I am most proud of is … 

… that is a difficult one.  I think it is about building the best teams to build the best projects; one example is from 2008 when I was the CEO at Justice Health and the Forensic Mental Health Network, and (after hearing from many that it could not be done) we successfully opened the Forensic Hospital and the Long Bay Prison Hospital. And now, building new accommodation for parents impacted by drugs and alcohol who choose to go through their rehabilitation and live with their children in a Therapeutic Community environment – one of our current major projects at Odyssey House.  This is only possible with great teams – and of course, major funding – and the outcome for vulnerable populations is immeasurable.

2020 and the COVID-19 pandemic posed challenges for us at Odyssey House including … 

…keeping our staff and clients safe while continuing to deliver services.  I am so proud that within a few days of COVID-19 being declared an international pandemic, we protected our safe “bubble” by adapting our programs and services at our Residential facility and completely shifting our outreach services online.  We got in queue to receive PPE and what was needed to keep our sites clean and safe, and not only did we maintain all our services (albeit modified), after a period of stability the number of people we were supporting monthly increased by approximately 15%.  Where there are challenges, there are opportunities, and with an increasing number of people affected by this crisis Odyssey was one of the many NGOs who continued to help people at risk.

So far this year the big issues for us are … 

….of course, adjusting to a post-COVID-19 environment. Responding to COVID-19 required significant changes to ways of working in the organisation, impacting stakeholders at all levels; personnel, clients, Board Directors, and the communities. Having the appropriate processes in place to accommodate innovative changes while also restoring essential business operations is a challenge. Limited funding with increasing demand continues to be a challenge, as does developing and retaining the workforce and ensuring ongoing compliance.

The sector will also be impacted by the recommendations made by the NSW Special Commission of Inquiry into the Drug ‘Ice’.  This is a golden opportunity for the state of NSW to lead the way in policy reform for our sector, and we are looking forward to further government engagement on this issue.  

To better serve our communities I would love to see more research into …  

….pre and post treatment.  There already is a lot of research in treatment, but what I mean is that the more we know about how to make treatment more accessible, and the more evidence we gather on maintaining outcomes post-treatment and how to resource effective follow-up and continuity of care, the better equipped we will be to provide adaptable treatment services and programs which work for individuals.  


About Julie

Julie Babineau is the Chief Executive Officer of Odyssey House NSW (OHNSW), one of Australia’s largest non-government rehabilitation organisations for people seeking to overcome dependence on alcohol and other drugs, helping over 40,000 people and their families to rebuild their lives since 1977. OHNSW offers residential and community-based outreach treatment programs. Appointed in 2016, Julie joined the Board as an Executive Director in 2019.

Julie has held leadership positions in health and community sectors in Australia and Canada. She has extensive experience in operations, policy, planning and strategy, coupled with broad knowledge of the health needs of vulnerable populations. For eight years, Julie was the CEO of NSW Justice Health and Forensic Mental Health Network, serving diverse populations. During this time, she led substantial reforms that saw the expansion of services to courts, community and adolescent settings while promoting patient-centred care.

Julie is President of the Network of Alcohol and Drug Agencies Board, member of an Advisory Board with the National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre, an Advisory Board member of NSW Ambulance and a Non-Executive Director of Wellways. Julie holds qualifications in social work, psychology, sports science, management and is an Australian Institute of Company Directors graduate.

Julie enjoys trekking, bushwalking and climbing mountains, including Mt Kilimanjaro, and the Kokoda and Larapinta Trails.