Support for Mental Health Commission Bill 2011

(5.35pm 14 February, Parliament House Sydney)

I strongly support the Mental Health Commission Bill 2011 and congratulate the Minister on this significant mental health reform. The bill establishes a Mental Health Commission to advise the Government on services, programs and health care for people with a mental illness so that New South Wales offers the best care and support. Prevention and early intervention will be part of the commission's role, as will community education to remove stigma. The commission will play a significant role in reform. Primary gains are expected for consumers, as well as carers, and there are major opportunities to improve services. The commission will also work to improve coordination, collaboration and feedback mechanisms for consumers and carers. This will provide an opportunity for community sector involvement, which is essential given that the community sector works to ensure social connections for people with a mental illness by helping them secure employment and housing.

A number of jurisdictions have mental health commissions, and I understand that our model will be based on the New Zealand Mental Health Commission, which has existed since 1998. The New Zealand commission has led to significant achievements, including strong community-focused care, greater per capita expenditure and a greater proportion of the overall health budget compared with Australia. Often in mental health care governments and bureaucrats are defensive about services, which is why establishing a Mental Health Commission is vital to reform. Having an independent body to assess care and make recommendations can be the best conduit for change. Of course, its success will depend on the Government's support and the need for bipartisanship. The commission will be able to drive reform only if the Government does not hide from or try to defend itself against criticism.

Its success will also depend on who the commissioner is—we need someone who is enthusiastic, knowledgeable and able to listen to people and who has a long-term vision to reconcile what consumers can achieve with what the mental health system can provide. I share widespread support for provisions in the bill that require the commissioner or at least one deputy to have had a mental illness. There is a hope that this will change the focus of care so that it is tailored to the needs of the consumer, not the clinician, given the strong link between recovery and person-centred care. The inner city is home to many people with a mental illness who live on the street due to the limited support and services to help them manage their illness and get back on their feet.

In response to years of advocacy, the previous Government—I commend former Premier Iemma—provided funds for a new Caritas facility and Psychiatric Emergency Care Centre, known as PECC, at St Vincent's Hospital campus, which provides state-of-the-art care with integrated mental health, drug and alcohol, and community health services. People with complex needs now have better help, particularly those with a dual diagnosis of both mental illness and drug problems who previously got caught between different services that would not treat one diagnosis until the other had been addressed. St Vincent's Hospital provides outreach services to rough sleepers and those in homelessness shelters and hostels, has linked with non-government homelessness service providers, and has refocused services on a recovery model with strong consumer participation. We need the community programs to complement this and to prevent acute illness.

I am concerned that inner-city mental health services cannot provide adequate care for people in need in their catchment area because so many people needing help in the inner city do not get transferred back to their home services or those home services are inadequate. Inner-city services are overloaded, and people with complex needs miss out. My Lord Mayoral Salary Trust has funded an innovative Cadre Project with the Inner City Mental Health Recovery Network to build community support networks, especially in public housing, where many tenants with serious health problems live in close proximity with limited or no help from overloaded health services. The Government should be funding programs like this; it should have been doing it for many years.

We know there is massive unmet need for mental health services and huge gaps in programs to help people participate in society and get back into work and community activities. Action is vital and long overdue, and I have repeatedly called for successive State governments to respond. I hope that the commissioner will be able to move resources into needed areas, ensure cooperation with the Commonwealth Government, and provide real and appropriate help to those with a mental illness. This bill marks an exciting time for mental health reform. Again, I congratulate the Minister on taking this important step towards reform, demonstrating his passion for mental health. I commend the bill to the House.