New governance, new hope: findings and results of the taskforce to establish a Mental Health Commission for NSW

Date30 November 2012
Published date30 November 2012
AuthorSebastian Rosenberg
New governance, new hope: findings and
results of the taskforce to establish a
Mental Health Commission for NSW
Sebastian Rosenberg
Purpose – This article aims to describe the process by which the new NSW Government executed its
election promise to establish a Mental Health Commission for NSW.
Design/methodology/approach – This case study draws on observations of the author who was expert
facilitator to the Taskforceto establish the new NSW Commission. The paper synthesises the work of the
Taskforce, the input of a consultation process that engaged more than 2,000 people, through six
state-wide community fora, online survey and other means. In describing the nature of the new NSW
Commission, the paper will also reflect on key learnings from the Taskforce’s interactions with other
mental health commissions, including in New Zealand, Western Australia and Canada.
Findings – Widespread concern about the lack of access to quality mental health care was reflected in
broad support for a new Mental Health Commission. Opinions variedabout how such a new body could
be effective. Strong bipartisan political support is key. Also critical is ensuring the new body has
sufficient legislative power and reach.
Research limitations/implications This paper relies on the observations of a key participant in a
reform process. This brings the limitations of potential bias as well as the strength of understanding that
is difficult for outsiders to access. The actual impact of the new NSW Mental Health Commission will only
become apparent following its 1 July 2012 start-up.
Practical implications Many jurisdictions are turning to specialised governance models, such as a
Commission, to drive mental health reform. This paper identifies some of the key issues to consider in
pursuing this strategy.
Social implications Commissionsneed to have strong engagement with consumers, carers, service
providers and the general community. This paper highlights some key issues in building these links.
Originality/value – The work of the Taskforce to Establish a NSW raised a range of issues relevant to
any mental health reform process. Given the level of community concern about mental health care,these
are important lessons.
Keywords Mental health services, Accountability, Governance, Consumers, Carers, Legislation,
Australia, Organizational structures
Paper type Case study
New South Wales (NSW) is the largest of the states and territories that comprise the Australian
federation, with a population of 7.2 million people. A state election was held in March 2011 at
which the long-serving labor government was swept from office in an electoral landslide in
favour of a Coalition comprised of the Liberal and National parties. One policy the Coalition
took to that election was to establish a Mental Health Commission in NSW by 1 July 2012.
This paper describes the process undertaken by the incoming Coalition Government to fulfil
this election promise.
Its first step was to make this work part of its initial 100-day plan, its key list of priority
activities on assuming office. A Taskforce to establish a NSW Mental Health Commission was
PAGE 248
VOL. 17 NO. 4 2012, pp. 248-259, QEmerald Group Publishing Limited, ISSN 1361-9322 DOI 10.1108/13619321211289326
Sebastian Rosenberg is
based at the Brain and
Mind Research Institute,
University of Sydney,
Sydney, Australia.

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