Back to All News

Estimates: Funding and Functions of National Mental Health Commission

Estimates & Committees
Penny Wright 31 May 2012

Senator WRIGHT: The National Mental Health Commission has been up and running since January this year. I am interested to know how much funding the commission was allocated in last year's budget and this year's budget.

Ms Kruk: I will get Ms Harman to give the exact details. I again thank you for joining us at the launch of the commission. The commission has been in operation for less than 50 days. The traction we have received in relation to accessing community members, and also the reports we have received from all sides of politics over that period of time has been quite significant, so I would like to acknowledge that.

Ms Harman: I will break the figures down by department and administered dollars. In 2011-12 we received $788,000 in departmental funding. We received $1.981 million in administered funding. In 2012-13 departmental funding will increase to $2.347 million, and our administration funding will increase to $4.158 million. Moving on through the forward estimates, in 2013-14, departmental funding will be $2.372 million and administered funding $4.016 million. In 2014-15 departmental funding will be $2.403 million and administered funding $4.121 million. In the 2015-16 year there will be departmental funding of $2.431 million and administered funding of $4.167 million.

Senator WRIGHT: Thank you. How much has the commission expended to date in establishment and administration costs?

Ms Kruk: The Prime Minister announced the commission in the middle of last year. Given the ambitiousness of the time lines, I agreed to step my way back into the workforce as well. So I started earlier than 1 January-probably sensibly now. I am most appreciative of that being the case. That enabled us to do some of the preliminary set-up work. Senators are aware of the fact that while we are in the Prime Minister's portfolio we are a stand-alone agency so we have all of the infrastructure and necessary reporting, hard-wiring and soft-wiring that is required of a large agency, despite the fact that we have a staff and compliment of approximately 10. It also enabled me to meet with a number of the key stakeholders to get some work underway. That has enabled us, despite the fact that we are less than 150 days old, to already have had two formal commission meetings, undertaken a planning session and virtually completed the first part of our strategic plan, in addition to have well and truly progressed our work on the report card. Georgie now has the numbers.

Ms Harman: Again, to draw a distinction between establishment costs prior to 1 January, which need to be directed to the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, in terms of departmental funding that the commission has expended for the period 1 January 2012 to 17 May 2012, that totals an estimated amount just over $600,000. It comprises staff and costs-supplier expenses, travel, IT and all the usual corporate costs.

Senator WRIGHT: Thank you. I have a few questions about consultation undertaken to date on the report card. I know the commission recently held consultations with stakeholders on 26 and 27 April. First, I understand that the roundtables were invitation only. Is that correct?

Ms Kruk: The roundtables were an additional consultation mechanism to the one that is under way at the moment. Firstly, I entered into an MOU with the Mental Health Council of Australia and asked that they, in their Australia-wide consultations, enable us to have the opportunity to ask a number of questions about what people's interests were in the report card. Secondly, we have contracted a third party to undertake meetings with approximately 70 of the major interest groups-far more detailed discussions, something that is not always possible through either survey work or through roundtable. That is happening at the moment. The roundtables were the commissioners' suggestion in that they wanted to bring together in many instances groups of people with a common interest. One of the roundtable discussion matters was looking at bringing in first responders together. We had police, a number of workers from the correctional settings-literally the full spectre of people who are involved in mental health responses but who are not necessarily caught up normally in the mental health space.

There was another one that dealt with more broadly based ATSI issues, so there were groupings of interest. The fourth component, and one which is underway at the moment is, using IT technology, a broadly based survey where people have a chance to indicate some of their expectations and some of their issues using a survey tool. The roundtable gave us some feedback about the fact that we were stepping too lightly in giving youth a chance to have their say. We have subsequently undertaken a joint exercise with the Western Australian government and we will do a youth based consultation as well. The final component is a more targeted initiative to some of the high-risk communities. We are fortunate in having Dr Pat Dudgeon on our commission as a commissioner and she is working with us to look at some of the particular challenges for the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander group and to use the Indigenous Mental Health Advisory Council to give us some feedback as to how best to intersect with that community and the CALD issues in some of the other acknowledged high risk groups in the community we are still dealing with.

The consultations are still a work in progress. I am realistic that some of those consultations will not be finished by the end of the year but I think it is more important that we establish some meaningful baseline data at the moment, so we are undertaking snapshots in a number of areas. The final piece of work is actually to undertake a far more qualitative assessment of people's experiences of service. That is something that really does require a far more detailed and sensitive handling given the sensitivity of the issues, but that is a piece of work we are about to start at the moment. The commissioners are very keen to get a sense of what qualitative evaluation tools are currently used in the mental health service arena-and not just health services but actually looking at the transitions between various service machineries, whether they are employment, housing based or welfare based. Some of those transition points are the highest-risk points in the system.

Senator WRIGHT: Thank you. That answers quite a few questions I had about the diversity and spread of the consultation you want to undertake. To go back to what you mentioned about the joint exercise with the Western Australian government: is that directed at looking at youth across Australia or particularly in Western Australia?

Ms Kruk: Youth more broadly. We had a very impressive young woman from one of the young services in Western Australia on the visit over there, and she was a very good advocate for the usage of youth. It was made quite clear to the commissioners that we needed a far more targeted intervention. This is an area where we, frankly, need to be more savvy in terms of some our use of social media as well. I apologise for my demographic in that space. That is something I think we do need to get on top of. So we will do something more face-to-face based in Western Australia but make that a bit of a tip of the iceberg in terms of youth issues more generally.

Ms Harman: To add to that: we are looking at partnering with a number of NGOs who are very well established in this area and have very good infrastructure already. This includes talking to the Young and Well Cooperative Research Centre, which has a number of partners who deliver services targeted at young people and have great connections with them. So, rather than trying to reinvent the wheel and, as Ms Kruk said, doing a ham fisted job of it, we are going to use those partners to get to the people we need to get to and make that a very national process as well.

Senator WRIGHT: Thank you. I have relatively young staffers who are very zealous about social media. I am on a steep learning curve, but I certainly see the value of it in lots of ways.

Ms Kruk: Ditto!

Senator WRIGHT: To go back to the two roundtables-

Senator FAULKNER: I am happy to give you a tutorial!

Senator WRIGHT: Thank you, John; I'll take you up on that! One of the other demographics about which I am interested in how you have managed to consult adequately is people living in rural, remote and regional areas. How did you target them?

Ms Kruk: It is still, again, a work in progress. We did four roundtables on those two days. We opened by expressing regret that they were done with quite some speed in terms of bringing parties together. The commission, as you would see from our operating principles, which are on the website, has a commitment to a minimum of six meetings a year, three of which will be in non-metropolitan locations. The pattern we establish is to do one full day and an evening of meetings and to make the second day a really broadly based contact with the community. The example in Queensland most recently was a session with about 30 to 40 stakeholders. It was very informal.

Ms Harman: Yes, I think there were at least 40 people there.

Ms Kruk: Normally then we also do various contacts with service providers in those areas. I think that will be one of the issues that comes up. Looking at the responses to our survey tool which is out there at the moment and which closes at the end of May, I will be interested in seeing what penetration we get in rural areas. I think we will need something more targeted. Significantly, the last commission meeting this year, from memory, will actually be in Orange, where the Centre for Rural and Remote Mental Health is based. We would be surprised if that is not one of the issues that they will solidly put on our agenda. The August meeting of the commission, which is one which will focus pretty solidly on challenges facing the Indigenous community, is in Alice Springs as well. I have had to apologise to the commissioners on a number of occasions for the commission meetings not being comfortably based in silvered buildings in capital cities. They have had to-and are very keen, actually-to do it in service centres as well. But the challenge is still there. We have not dealt with the challenge effectively yet.

Senator WRIGHT: It is a real challenge, I think-for all of us, actually. But there is a glaring need, the more I look into it in terms of making sure that there is the access to people living in those areas.

Ms Kruk: And the workforce issues that accompany those challenges.

Senator WRIGHT: Yes. In Queensland, the most recent one you referred to was where you had 30 to 40 people, I think. Was that in Brisbane?

Ms Kruk: Yes. The pattern in each of the states is to invite the minister responsible for mental health, and they have been productive sessions to date in all jurisdictions. Clearly, in some states where commissions have already been established there are opportunities for us to work quite closely with the commissions. That is being done, can I say, in a pretty solidly bipartisan manner so far. The challenges are not dissimilar.

Senator WRIGHT: You indicated earlier that one of the themes that is coming up in your consultation is the fragmentation and the need to coordinate services across the state and federal divides.

Ms Kruk: Yes. Often you have similar programs being conducted by the different levels of government. That is good, frank feedback to get-and that is anecdotal feedback as well. That is something we can follow up, obviously, with our counterparts.

Senator WRIGHT: Just following up a little bit more on the roundtables, who facilitated the roundtables?

Ms Kruk: We had four roundtables. We used three different facilitators. The selection of facilitators was significant. Firstly, the commissioners wanted to be active participants in those discussions, which was something we solidly supported. There was Dr Kerry Arabena, who would be known to you; from Victoria, Dr Norman Swan; and also Julie McCrossin. What set them apart was their content richness in all of those areas. Looking at the first run of the feedback from the participants in the workshops, we were complimented on the selection of the facilitators. This is not an area where you can go in content free; that was very much the perception.

Senator WRIGHT: Can you provide the committee with a breakdown of the costs of the roundtables overall, including the cost of hiring the facilitators? Do you have that available here?

Ms Kruk: Yes, I am happy to do so.

Ms Harman: In terms of the facilitators, for Dr Norman Swan-he facilitated two roundtables for us, so that was a two-day cost plus, obviously, all the preparation-the cost was $10,047. For Ms Julie McCrossin, who facilitated one of the roundtables, the cost was $4,400 and for Dr Kerry Arabena cost was $4,400. We engaged and event management company to take care of the organising of the event. The charge for White Space event management includes catering, venue hire, coordinating all the invitations and basically putting on the event for us. The total cost of that contract was $62,367. We also expended some funds on getting people to the roundtables, with a focus, obviously, on consumers' and carers' travel and accommodation costs. That amounted to $7,850.

Senator WRIGHT: That was my next question, so I do not need to ask it now. Thank you for that. In relation to the survey, how many responses have you had to date?

Ms Kruk: We had 2,725 as I walked in. I think it is our intention to look at that at the end of the week to see whether we need to promote it in particular states. It has been a very good response, but we also recognise there are limitations in terms of an analysis or a snapshot of this type. You cannot truly call it a survey; it is a snapshot in many ways. But it is very useful feedback as an adjunct.

Senator WRIGHT: It was due to close on 31 May. Is that right?

Ms Kruk: Yes, that is right.

Senator WRIGHT: My last question is around the cross-sectoral nature of your brief. How are you ensuring that there is a cross-department and cross-sectoral perspective and how are you engaging with other government departments?

Ms Kruk: I touched on our intersections across the jurisdictions. Our issue that a number of the programs which were part of the $2.2 billion funding announcement by this government in relation to mental health more generally means intersecting the employment agencies because they have a number of programs that operate in that space. I think I have meetings in the next 24 hours with them. They intersect with health but also with the FaHCSIA portfolio. I think all of those agencies were also represented at the round tables.

What was good about the round tables was that there were very frank discussions about the operational data that agencies held-for instance, the police. Every agency has a wealth of data which is not necessarily always captured in the current KPIs but which can give you incredibly useful signals in terms of where the most significant change can be driven. So it is now up to our staff to follow that through at an agency level. Tomorrow I have another of a number of meetings that we have had with the ABS and the Institute of Health and Welfare about drawing on existing data sources, and that has been progressing very well.

We have had a lot of support from Commonwealth agencies. There are such a number of data stewards there. Again, the question we tend to ask is: this is not data collection for the sake of data collection; this is ultimately about looking at what data sets will continue to drive service improvement and-let us not beat around the bush-ensure that it is actually a good spend. Is it a spend in the right space? That has generated a very productive discussion in every jurisdiction in which we have been.

We have yet to look at the non-government sector in more detail. It is something on which I am in discussions with the Mental Health Council of Australia. I am conscious that there are some incredibly successful interventions and programs in those spaces. I have also seen some incredibly good blended programs that do bring all of the sectors together-Commonwealth, state, not-for-profit and also, in some instances, the realms of the private providers. They are very interesting models to look at how and why they work and what the factors are that keep them running. There is a lot to be done.

Senator WRIGHT: Thank you very much for your helpful answers. Forgive me if I have missed this already, but when do you expect the national report card to be finalised?

Ms Kruk: End of the year.

Senator WRIGHT: I thought that is what I heard you say. Thank you very much.

CHAIR: That concludes the session.

Ms Kruk: I am done?

CHAIR: Yes.

Ms Kruk: Senator, thank you very much.

CHAIR: We will see you at the next estimates. We will take a break now and recommence with the Australian Public Service Commission.

Back to All News