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Mental Health Moved from PM's Portfolio Back to Health

18 September 2013

The Chair of Australia's National Mental Health Commission says he is determined to continue to bring a whole of life, whole of government perspective to mental health and suicide prevention, despite the Commission no longer reporting to the new Prime Minister or the country having a dedicated Minister for Mental Health.

Chair, Professor Allan Fels, said he also hopes the removal of mental health from the Prime Minister's portfolio does not signal a drop in its priority on the political, social and economic agenda.

"We are pleased that mental health will still be represented at the Cabinet table.

"Since our inception, the Commission has maintained that in order to effect meaningful change, mental health and suicide prevention must remain a high national priority for all governments and continue to have the support of the Prime Minister, Premiers and Chief Ministers," he said.

"It is also extremely important to the community that mental health is not just seen as being in the bailiwick of health, but that it touches every aspect of a person's life. There is not one portfolio that does not have a role to play in improving the mental health and wellbeing of all Australians.

"People need a safe, stable and secure home, a job or something meaningful to do, a decent education and good relationships to lead contributing lives. Their families need to be included and supported," Professor Fels said.

The Prime Minister, the Hon Tony Abbott MP, also recently announced the Commission would be tasked with undertaking a national review of mental health services, which Professor Fels welcomes.

"Being given the task of implementing this election commitment of the Government has shown confidence in the Commission. We intend to make this a serious exercise and to give the Government our independent advice about genuine reform to improve outcomes for people and boost participation and productivity.

"After all, nearly half of all Australian adults will experience mental illlness at some point in their lifetime. Suicide is the biggest killer of our young people and Indigenous people are four times more likely to die by suicide than the rest of us. And that has a profound effect on our families, workplaces, schools, police and other first responders, the justice system and communities.

"If you look at the Commission's work to date, it has been far from limited by a traditional 'health' perspective. We intend to continue this. It's because we believe in people having contributing lives, that we consider the levers for change lay within our communities- with employers, schools, housing, our health and community care structures and mental health. And we know that it is people who have the lived experience of mental health, including their families and support people that will be the litmus test of these systems and communities working well," Professor Fels said.

Professor Fels says he looks forward to meeting with Health Minister Peter Dutton, along with Ministers with responsibility for education, employment, housing, Indigenous Affairs and human services, as soon as possible.

The Commission's second National Report Card on Mental Health and Suicide Prevention will be released on 27 November, 2013.

"Even the most disadvantaged Australians should be able to lead a 'contributing life,' whatever that means for them and this simple goal will be our touchstone and yardstick."

Chair Prof Allan Fels AO
National Mental Health Commission

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