about us

First Step strives to provide safe and effective pathways for people with addiction related illnesses to assist them to positively re-engage with their community.


Our clients

Our clients are some of the most marginalised and vulnerable members of our community.

They often face social and economic isolation as a result of the stigma that goes along with drug and alcohol addiction.  This stigma exacerbates the underlying addiction and mental health issues, making it harder for patients to seek help.

At First Step we strive to provide accessible, non-judgemental and compassionate services to all who seek assistance.  We recognise that drug addiction is a chronic relapsing illness.   It pervades all aspects of life, not only for patients but for families and significant others as well.

First Step aims to reduce the considerable social, emotional and financial costs to families and society by working with individuals to stabilise their condition, support their recovery and empower their re-entry into the community as valued and contributing members.

What makes us different?

First Step is a multi disciplinary, not-for-profit medical clinic in St. Kilda.  For over 15 years we have worked to help people overcome their dependence on drugs and alcohol.  We have built a reputation for compassion and excellence in clinical care, with wrap around services that address the physical, psychological and social well-being of our patients.

The clinic is highly experienced in its treatment of patients with complex, coexisting mental health issues.  Our work extends beyond our St Kilda clinic to our partnerships and collaborations with other respected medical institutions and community organisations.

The First Step approach to treatment for people suffering from Addiction includes comprehensive assessment and care planning based on diagnostic evidence and an understanding of the underlying causes of addiction.   In the hands of our highly experienced medical practitioners, these regular assessments inform treatment options and potential risks to ultimately result in a Care Strategy that reflects the wants and needs of the patient.

We strive to be highly accessible by providing services free of charge to clients (through Medicare rebates).

The First Step Legal Service (FSLS) is an arm of First Step developed in recognition of the fact that legal issues have the potential to significantly compromise the rehabilitation of patients.  FSLS is provided free of charge for patients who are actively engaged in rehabilitation with First Step.



History of First Step

First Step was founded in July 2000 by Peter White OAM with assistance from Dr Simon Rose and Tim Costello AO.  The trio were responding then to what they perceived to be a critical need for low cost, effective treatment for people addicted to heroin.

First Step was then, and remains today, one of the few addiction programs to provide fully funded medical treatment (Bulk billed).  We have maintained our commitment to provide free-to-the-public medical care but, in response to changing community needs, we have also broadened our treatment services to provide an extensive range of addiction, general and mental health care services, as well as social, legal and employment support for our patients.

Vision and Mission


First Step strives to provide safe and effective pathways for those suffering from addiction related illnesses.  Our aim is to help them achieve the ability to re-engage with their communities in a positive and constructive way.


Our mission is to use effective medical and therapeutic techniques to minimise the effects of addiction and mental health issues and to provide consistent and long term support.   Our aim is to provide individuals with the support and the skills to rebuild their own lives. We consider the following areas to be central to the success of our mission:

Affordability and Accessibility

We aim to provide affordable, accessible and non-judgemental services to all who seek assistance.

Medical Programs

We provide an environment in which staff members work with patients to determine which of our range of medical treatment programs are appropriate for them. These programs may include treatment for addiction, mental health problems and Hep C among others.

Psycho–Social Programs

We provide compassionate advice, referral, support and counseling (psychologists and mental health nurses).


We provide legal advice and legal representation free of charge to clients who are actively engaged in treatment with the First Step health service providers.


We provide pre-employment training and counselling programs and opportunities for employment with participating businesses.

Research and Innovation

We pioneer innovative treatments and seek to influence public drug policy.


First Step seeks to support and maximise the well-being of all people that seek our help.


First Step believes in the right of all people, regardless of financial status or previous life history, to receive assistance to overcome their illness.  We recognise the strength and bravery required to seek assistance and strive to support each individual for as long as they require help.


Compassion is a cornerstone of the First Step ethos.   We believe that all people are deserving of our compassion and support and we strive to deliver that at each point of contact between our patients and our team.


First Step operates in a manner that both shows and demands respect to patients, their families, staff and volunteers in the belief that only in such an environment of trust and respect can progress truly be made.


Through its associations with respected bodies in the Addiction and Mental Health space First Step stays abreast of new developments in treatment and delivery of service for our patients.    The First Step also seeks to communicate regularly with external policy makers to encourage them to both to remain open-minded about new treatment methods and to keep them informed of trends and changes noticed in our patient group.


First Step strives to deliver excellence in caring for the physical, mental and social well-being of patients, their families, staff and volunteers.

Passion and Appreciation

First Step exists due to the passion of its staff, volunteers and founders. First Step strives to maintain an environment that fosters this passion, and publicly and frequently expresses its gratitude to all its team members.


The First Step Program is accredited through the Australian General Practice Accreditation Limited (AGPAL) Accreditation is independent recognition that First Step is committed to delivering safe and high quality health care to our patients by complying with the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP). First Step Legal has achieved top tier (Tier one) accreditation from the National Association of Community Legal Centres (NACLC), each year, since the commencement of the accreditation scheme. The principal lawyer of the legal service is an Accredited Criminal Law Specialist through the Law Institute of Victoria.

Our People

Medical Doctors: Dr John Gunzburg, Dr Peter Wright, Dr John Sherman, Dr Ernie Andrada, Dr Tim Lowe, Dr David Iser

Mental Health Nurses:  Clara Summers,

Practice Nurse: Haydn Salomons

Hepatitis Nurse Consultant: Sally Watkinson

Psychologists: Dr Jan Borrell (Clinical Psychologist),  Joseph Szakmary (Psychologist),

Social Workers:  John Chellew

Legal: Tania Wolff (Principal Lawyer), Janine Perlman (Lawyer), Sherin Sethna (Legal Case Manager)

Administration: Bryan Ambrosius (CEO), Gayle Wood (Operations Manager)

Our Board


Bernard McInerney: 

Chairman of the Board (Former Company Secretary – The Toll Group)

line Patrick Lawrence:

CEO – First Step

line Ruth Oakden:

Deputy Chair (Senior Chaplain & Second Step Program Manager – The Toll Group)

line Richard Kasperczyk:

Former Managing Director, Converge International.  Psychologist

Patrick Lawrence-resized  Richard Kasperczyk 200x200

Dr Ian Kronborg:

Clinical Director of Medicine at Western Health


Ian Gray:

Retired Former Coroner of Victoria, Adjunct Professor




Digby Hannah:

Community Wellbeing Worker at St Kilda Youth Services & previously Chaplain at Mission Australia

line m7

Mark Watt:

CEO at Whitelion, CEO at Open Family Australia, Chair at Surrender Australia & St Kilda Gate House

Annual Reports

See below for links to the 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015 & 2016 annual reports, and First Step Legal Development Project Report . . . report3 report2 report1 Annual report 2015           First Step Legal Annual Update


FSL 2014-15 coverFSL 2015-16 coverFSL Interim