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Calls for a new Human Rights Commissioner for Mental Health and Wellbeing to drive government accountability

Australians for Mental Health (AfMH) has called for the creation of a new Mental Health and Wellbeing Commissioner within the Australian Human Rights Commission in a pre-budget submission to the Federal Government.

The newly formed role would have the power to initiate investigations, compel witnesses, and refer matters for prosecution in a bid to drive more accountability from governments on their mental health performance. 

“The tragedy of Robodebt must never be allowed to happen again” said Chris Gambian, Executive Director of Australians for Mental Health. 

“Too often mental health is understood as a personal struggle. But the choices we make on how we do things, what we prioritise, and what we invest in has a tangible impact on population level mental health long before people arrive in the health treatment system. 

“Governments need to consider what they can do to drive population mental health, including being accountable for the things they might do which can harm mental health.” 

The call comes after the latest figures from the Australian Bureau of Statistics found that 8.6 million Australians (aged 16-85 years) have experienced a “mental disorder”, and that that 38.8 percent of people aged 16–24 years reported a 12-month mental disorder, an increase of nearly 50 percent from figures gathered in 2007. 

“Australian’s mental health is in crisis,” Gambian said, “We need a crisis response from government that befits the scale of the crisis we are in.” 

The creation of a Mental Health and Wellbeing Commissioner is a key feature of a Wellbeing Act being proposed by Australians for Mental Health. Other proposals include: 

  • Mandatory assessments of mental health impacts for all new laws, policies and budget measures; 
  • Creation of a set of National Mental Health and Wellbeing targets to focus public resources and effort; 
  • Consultation around a set of National Mental Health and Wellbeing Principles to act as a guideline for best practises; 
  • Creation of an Office of mental Health and Wellbeing in the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet to coordinate and oversee the government's response to the mental health crisis across agencies; 
  • Mandatory mental heath action plans for all departments and agencies; 
  • Reforms to accounting processes to account for embedded mental health value in other spending line items; 
  • Establishment of a dedicated and regular Mental Health Ministers meeting as part of the National Cabinet process. 

“We all know fundamental reform is urgently needed in the way Australia manages its mental health and wellbeing,” Gambian said. “But after 53 inquiries in the last 10 years the figures are still getting worse.” 

“Nothing less than a complete overhaul of the way we think and act on mental health and wellbeing is needed.” 

Read Australians for Mental Health’s full pre-budget submission here. 

For interviews with Chris Gambian please contact Simon Black: [email protected], or 0420 488 219. 

About Australians for Mental Health: 

Australians for Mental Health was founded in 2014 to campaign for fundamental change in the way the country thinks and acts about mental health. Our mission is to ensure that Australia starts putting mental health at the heart of our national life. 

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