Hon Helen Morton MLA spoke about her vision in forming an independent and authoritative body that oversees mental health services in Western Australia in 2008, while serving in the opposition. She is now the Minister for Mental Health, Disability and Child Protection and was involved in the formation of the Mental Health Commission in 2010.
Helen talked about Western Australia having a ‘Commissioning Commission’ that allocates money for mental health services from other government departments (Health is the largest provider), non-government agencies and private service providers. Helen reported that large investments have been made into NGOs to recruit, retain and pay mental health staff, including paying NGO staff at the same rates as workers in the public system. Lessons learned over the last four and a half years since establishing the Commission include understanding that change is slow and that no one authority can achieve systemic reform. Rather, partnerships are essential through the expertise within the organisations that the Commission oversees.
Differences in the commissions around Australia were evident after the talks by each commissioner. WA is currently the only commission that has service commissioning as its core function. David Butt, the National Commissioner, opened by defining what a commission is from a national standpoint. It is important to be independent from health departments and gain the trust and support of other departments, agencies, and stakeholders. David spoke a lot about having a long-term view of mental health reform and of winning the war, rather than small battles.
Lesley Van Schoubroeck, the Queensland Commissioner, started her talk with the quote, “There are many ways a fella can get nothing done”. The Queensland Commission was established by legislation and has a three year mandate, with the plan to be reviewed in 5 years, to provide a strategic plan for the future of Mental Health Services in the state. Her talk was about the need to push for change: to be the “irritating force” that encourages and provokes change. She cited using media and establishing connections as the key to affecting and driving changes.
Tim Marney, the Western Australian Commissioner spoke about the structure in place for WA’s Commission to be the facilitator between services, consumers and families. Procurement procedures and measurement of outcomes were essential for the success of a ‘Commissioning Commission’. Money is the tool for achieving transformation alongside authority and accountability.
Julie Robotham from the NSW’s Commission has a reporting role to government, established in 2012 as a statutory body to monitor and review mental health services in the state. The challenge for NSW is that an increasing amount of money is being spent on hospital services in the Mental Health arena, and less within the community sector. This is recognized as not good long term policy and does not support the needs of consumers, their families and carers.