New Bill to Reform Victoria's Mental Health System

Thursday 18 November 2021 @ 4.09 p.m. | Legal Research

Currently making its way through the Victorian Parliament is the Victorian Collaborative Centre for Mental Health and Wellbeing Bill 2021 (Vic) (‘the Bill’). The Bill was first introduced in the Legislative Assembly on 12 October 2021 by Minister for Mental Health James Merlino (‘the Minister’), and is currently being considered by the Legislative Council.

The Bill proposes the establishment of the Victorian Collaborative Centre for Mental Health and Wellbeing (‘the Centre’). The Centre was a recommendation within the final report published by the Royal Commission into Victoria’s Mental Health System ('the Royal Commission') in February 2021.

The Centre is designed to be the engine room for a new mental health and wellbeing system in Victoria. It will likely be located in Melbourne. The Minister's second reading speech comments that the Royal Commission’s Interim Report envisioned a:

“new redesigned system, [where] people living with mental illness or psychological distress … will have access to comprehensive treatment, care and support delivered by a skilled and diverse workforce”.

Furthermore, the Minister noted that earlier in 2021, the Victorian state budget invested a record $3.8 billion to reform the state’s mental health and wellbeing system, and this Bill forms a part of this “ambitious ten-year reform agenda”.

Specifically, this Bill seeks to lay the groundwork for how this Centre would operate. The Minister summarised in his second reading speech that:

“[i]t establishes the objectives and guiding principles of the centre, lays out the functions of the centre, and stipulates governance arrangements that embed collaboration and lived experience leadership within the Board and executive levels”.

Guiding Principles and Functions of the Centre 

The Bill proposes 8 guiding principles which the Centre should endeavour to work consistently with. These principles include – among others – the following, as summarised by the Minister in his second reading speech:

  • “Mental health and wellbeing is shaped by the social, cultural, economic and physical environments in which people live and is a shared responsibility of society”;
  • “The inherent dignity of people living with mental illness or psychological distress is to be respected”;
  • “Comprehensive mental health and wellbeing treatment, care and support services are to be provided on an equitable basis to those who need them and as close as possible to their communities”; and
  • “Responsive, high quality mental health and wellbeing services attract a skilled and diverse workforce”.

Alongside these guiding principles, the Bill describes 8 proposed functions of the Centre, some of which are summarised by the Minister as follows:

  • “To provide, promote and coordinate the provision of mental health and wellbeing services”;
  • “To provide or arrange the provision of specialist support services and care for persons who have experienced trauma”
  • To “establish links and service access pathways between mental health services and the Centre”;
  • To “provide, promote and coordinate activities that support the continuing education and professional development of service providers”; and
  • To “develop and implement research strategies that address priority needs in Victoria’s mental health and wellbeing system”.

The Minister stated that these functions are proposed to be fulfilled through such initiatives such as the establishment of a “Statewide Trauma Service”, as well as a statewide network for undertaking and disseminating knowledge gathered through mental health and wellbeing research.

Leadership in the Centre

A critical feature of the Bill is proposes what would be the foundation for the governance of the Centre. In particular, the Minister emphasised that the Bill legislates for a leadership system that is inclusive in terms of representing lived experience from various perspectives, whilst simultaneously representing academic research. 

The Minister highlights that the Bill proposes that on the Governance Board, there would be:

“four dedicated positions for people with lived experience; two with a consumer background and two with a family, carer or supporter background”.

This is in order to increase the diversity of experiences that can be brought to the table when making decisions that may affect a wide range of people. The Minister also notes that the Bill also provides that the Board should establish “two key partnerships: one with a health service and one with a research partner”.

Furthermore, the Minister explained that the Centre’s leadership model would involve the collaboration of two Co-Directors, who would each have joint executive authority. If passed, the Bill will require that one of these Co-Directors would be a person with a lived mental illness experience, and the other Co-Director would be an academic.

On this leadership system, the Minister said in his second reading speech that:

“[t]his approach is intended to foster cooperation and will ensure that traditional power structures identified by the Royal Commission that placed greater emphasis on clinical academic expertise are adjusted to incorporate greater agency for people with lived experience”.

Ultimately, the Minister acknowledged that the past approach to mental health has been focused on academia more so than on the actual lived experience of those living with mental illness and mental health issues. He concluded his second reading speech of the Bill by arguing that the Bill would promote a move towards an “all of us together” approach to mental health and wellbeing, rather than the “us and them” approach of the past.

This Bill is just one stage in a suite of reforms expected to be implemented in the mental health and wellbeing sector in the coming years.  

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Victorian Collaborative Centre for Mental Health and Wellbeing Bill 2021 (Vic) and explanatory materials available from TimeBase's LawOne service

Media Release: Building the Engine Room of Our New Mental Health System (Victorian Government, 13 October 2021)

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