How can the sector influence the Productivity Commission’s Final Report?

SA Mental Health Services Plan
November 10, 2019

This has been republished from Mental Health Australia’s weekly bulletin.

One week on from the release of the Productivity Commission Inquiry’s Draft Report into Mental Health, I know our policy team will enjoy a well-earned break this weekend, having compiled such a detailed Preliminary Analysis for the benefit of members and stakeholders.

Thank you to our dedicated policy and communications teams who have all contributed to this detailed analysis of the Draft Report. Our Preliminary Analysis, alongside last week’s Quick Scan Summary and Charter 2020 are all designed to help formulate further responses and submissions as the Productivity Commission undertakes Public Hearings over the coming months. In short, we can all still work to bolster and further improve the Final Report.

From the outset there was a great deal of expectation surrounding the release of this report, and from our end that expectation still remains, having now had time to read and process the draft.

First and foremost, Mental Health Australia welcomes the careful thinking and detail the Productivity Commission provided in the Draft Report, which has many positive aspects.

It is a useful and contemporary statement of the breadth and depth of the community and economic impact of mental illness. It works hard to properly place the experience of mental illness in a broader social context. It has set out particular areas for focus, like housing, justice and education. And it has attempted to grapple with details of accountability and governance.

The Draft Report is also at times damning about national progress. For example, it states:

There is no clear national vision for mental health. Although the National Mental Health Policy 2008 declares that it ‘provides a strategic vision for further whole-of-government mental health reform in Australia’ there is little evidence that its development involved collaboration with non-health portfolios. This is consistent with the subject of the vision being the mental health system, rather than mental health outcomes. 

There is also a disconnect between the national vision statement and those developed by individual State and Territory Governments… While the vision statement in the National Mental Health Policy provides context, no jurisdictions refer to COAG’s vision in their strategic mental health plans.

Vol 2, p.898

With the timing of this Draft Report, and the Final Report to be delivered to Government in May 2020, we should also be mindful of a range of activities underway that may still influence the direction of future reform. The National Mental Health Commission is preparing Vision 2030. The Victorian Mental Health and Aged Care Royal Commissions are progressing. There is clearly work underway in relation to suicide prevention and a zero target, while the Morrison Government has already committed to the development of a childhood mental health strategy.

As always, the policy landscape is complex and as a sector we understand how little benefit comes from just applying more band-aid solutions. We also understand how easy it is to ignore recommendations, no matter how well written, if they do not interrelate with each other. Which is why we need to work together and keep assisting the Productivity Commission to realise the full extent of its ambition, as this report moves from the draft to final stage over the coming months.

In looking to provide the Productivity Commission with sector-wide feedback it is interesting to consider hypothetically: if everything in the Draft Report was implemented fully and completely, would it have enough of an impact to really shift the national response to mental illness?

Some critical elements appear to be missing, like a concept of recovery, structures to support broader consumer and carer systemic advocacy, and a clear commitment to community-based services. So the question now is: how can the sector work with the Productivity Commission to further articulate a suitably ambitious reform agenda that represents generational change? It is not simply enough to do what we are doing now, but better.

Kind regards,

Melanie Cantwell
Acting CEO

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