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Finance and Public Administration Legislation Committee
National Mental Health Commission

National Mental Health Commission

CHAIR: We will continue with our program. I welcome to the table officers of the National Mental Health Commission. I believe it is their first appearance at the Senate estimates, so welcome. I am sure you will find it a very valuable process, which we do obviously as committee members. Is there an opening statement?

Ms Kruk : Just briefly, I thank committee members for fitting us in tonight. We were very conscious of the fact that we had a range of stakeholder meetings in Adelaide tomorrow, so we really do appreciate you putting us in tonight. Thank you for that.

CHAIR: Do you have an opening statement?

Ms Kruk : No, that was it.

CHAIR: Minister, you have no statement?

Senator Chris Evans: No, thank you, Chair.

Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS: We see Ms Harmer in a different light. She has been poached from the Department of Health and Ageing, so we welcome her in a different guise. Ms Kruk, in relation to the commission itself and yourself and Professor Fels, did you have any involvement with the selection process for the commissioners or was that a decision purely of the minister?

Ms Kruk : I know this has been a discussion in the chamber here before. My involvement in that process was that the minister's office asked for my views on some of the commissioners who I would have dealt with in a professional capacity before, but the appointment of the commissioners was clearly a decision for the government.

Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS: Minister, were these commissioners handpicked by Minister Butler?

Senator Chris Evans: As to 'handpicked', the government makes the decision on the appointments.

Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS: We have raised issues about transparency in relation to the National Mental Health Commission before, in relation to Monsignor Cappo. You may recall that on the last occasion I raised some questions in relation to that and, really, I am coming at this in relation to the commissioners and what the process was for choosing the commissioners.

Senator Chris Evans: At the end of the day the appointment process is a decision of government. Obviously, Minister Butler took some soundings. Ms Kruk just described how she was sounded, as it were, about some of the applicants, but in the end those appointments are a decision for government.

Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS: I can appreciate the people that were the commissioners chosen. In relation to Ms Sam Mostyn, can I understand from you, Minister, what her qualifications are to be appointed to the National Mental Health Commission? She has been in all sorts of things: communications, wireless, Virgin Blue. There is nothing there in relation to mental health, so I really wonder what her qualifications are for being appointed to the National Mental Health Commission.

Senator Chris Evans: Maybe Ms Kruk can talk about her engagement, but I am not briefed on her background. I do not know the person. It is the case that with most of these boards we try and get a wide range of experience. There are a couple of vacancies currently on the CSIRO board and I was discussing these appointments with the relevant officers the other day. They are looking for a breadth of experience, not people expert in a field. On the CSIRO board we have people who are expert in business, because they bring those business skills to the board, not just the scientific skills. In terms of this particular individual, I do not have a brief on her particular qualifications. I do not know whether Ms Kruk can help.

Ms Kruk : If it is appropriate, I may assist without wanting to, in any way, put myself in the place of the decision making. Having had the first commission meeting, I certainly am aware of the contribution that Ms Mostyn makes to that meeting. I probably know something of her background, if that is useful?

Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS: I have got some background on her. It is quite extensive. I know she was policy advisor to federal communications ministers before joining the office of Prime Minister Keating as a senior communications policy advisor. My concern is that there are many people who could potentially have been appointed to this board. One, I do not know what the processes were for the appointment of the commissioners, and, whilst most of the commissioners have some involvement with mental health—people like Rob Knowles, Ian Hickie and others—I really do question the appointment of Ms Mostyn since she appears to have absolutely no mental health connection whatsoever. I just wonder what the basis of that appointment was.

Ms Kruk : I cannot actually put myself into the position of a decision maker for the appointment, but I have certainly worked with Ms Mostyn in various other capacities in the past. It is quite clear from my understanding, looking at the appointment process retrospectively, that the aim was to get a broad range of skill sets, as Senator Evans has indicated. I think most members would be aware there is a short summation of members' backgrounds on the commission website. I am very conscious of the fact that she has done work in Indigenous communities and I do not think that is necessarily always acknowledged. Her contribution, certainly to the first commission meeting and in discussions that I have had with her since, as we start our work for the national mental health and suicide report card, is very clearly the broad governance skills she adds to the equation, but there is also the very important consideration in mental health for employer related issues as well. I know Ms Harman had some discussions with her only today in terms of some of the commissioner's expectations about the mental health report card. I think she has already made some valuable suggestions. However I do stress, I am not putting myself in the position of—

Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS: I appreciate that.

Ms Kruk : I am acknowledging the contributions she has already made.

Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS: I appreciate that, Ms Kruk. Minister I am conscious of the time. Perhaps it could be taken on notice what the process was for the selection process.

Senator Chris Evans: I just want to be clear with you that these are decisions of government. They are made in the same way that they were made under the previous government. In the end it is a selection by a government either through the minister or cabinet, and those are the decisions that are taken. Those decisions are not subject to the revealing of great details about who was considered over whom et cetera. This government stands by the decision and the people have been selected because of what they might bring to the particular body. As I say, and as was the case under the previous government, you actually look for a broader mix of people rather than have eight or 10 people all with the same skill set.

Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS: In relation to potential conflicts of interest, I am concerned about comments that have been made in the press in relation today to Professor Ian Hickie. I think Ms Kruk would be aware—and she is nodding that she is aware—of the comments that have been made recently in the press about Professor Ian Hickie. I am not directing my comments one way or the other about Professor Hickie; my question goes to how to deal with conflicts of interest. Conflicts of interest have been an issue that have become prominent, in particular in the mental health sphere. I will choose my words carefully. The comments have been directed against Professor Hickie and Professor McGorry in various ways. I am not being critical of either gentlemen. I am simply asking whether measures have been put in place so that the issue of conflicts of interest is dealt with in relation to the workings of the commissioner?

Senator Chris Evans: Perhaps Ms Cross might help in the sense that I am sure the normal processes were involved before appointment in terms of what each applicant has to do. Ms Cross, you might take the committee through the broad principles that apply for appointments.

Ms Cross : As a standard part of any of these types of appointments there is a declaration by any of the people being considered as to whether they have any conflicts of interest, and that is taken into account in the approval process.

Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS: Just talking in particular about Professor Hickie, he would have declared certain conflicts if he did have any.

Ms Cross : He would have completed a statement of conflict of interest, yes. They are a part of the appointment process.

Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS: When Professor Fels was appointed, there was an article in the Australian by Adam Cresswell on 24 January. I am happy to table a copy of the article. It says that the head of the federal government's National Mental Health Commission has promised that the new body will be independent enough to 'call the shots' in the timing and substance of its reports on progress in the sector. Professor Fels has certainly made these comments about his perception of being an independent body. It is a body that is within the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet; are the parameters in place in relation to the commission sufficient to warrant Professor Fels's understanding of independence?

Senator Chris Evans: I think that anyone who has had anything to do with professor Fels over the years would say that he is someone of independent thought and someone who would take his role very seriously and would insist on independent and evidence based policy. I do not think even his worst enemy would suggest otherwise on those fronts, so I am sure his views were firmly held and reflected the reality. There are quality people on the commission for good reason: they bring a set of skills and experiences which should allow it to do its important work. Ms Kruk might want to talk about that as well.

Ms Kruk : It is probably worth clarifying that we are not part of PM&C but are actually an independent agency in our own right. A placement within the Prime Minister's portfolio I think was done very much in response to a strong demand from the key mental health stakeholders that there should be a body that had a monitoring and evaluation role that was not actually associated directly with one of the service providers. You and I have spoken about the merits of that before. Knowing, as I think the senator has indicated, that the successful commissioners of this entity are all very independent minded people, I do not think Professor Fels would be on his own in actually having very strong views. So there are clearly the governance structures which give it that independence from any of the service agencies but, secondly, the selection of the commissioners also gave a very clear signal in relation to independence. I am aware of your public comments in this regard, but I do not think that anyone would question the independence of any of the individuals.

Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS: I am not questioning it.

Ms Kruk : Because a number have actually been quite critical of the incumbent government in terms of mental health and are quite bipartisan in that regard.

Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS: I make those comments because of the comments and evidence that was given at the recent senate inquiry into the funding and administration of mental health. Some quite strong comments were made by various people who gave evidence and in some of the submissions about the need for an independent mental health commission, and that was the context. So the legislative framework for the commission has been established?

Ms Kruk : The commission, as you understand, is an executive agency so I as CEO have the responsibilities in terms of the running of the agency. Its reporting line is to the Prime Minister, but I think you are certainly understanding of the fact that Minister Butler as Minister Assisting the Prime Minister on Mental Health Reform—

Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS: Day to day.

Ms Kruk : is a day-to-day minister for those purposes. That autonomy is significant. We have an obligation to report to parliament on both the operations of the agency and, arguably, the mental health and suicide prevention report card will be the major piece of work in terms of its independence.

Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS: You are an executive agent, but you are not an independent statutory entity?

Ms Kruk : There are clearly a number of different models of mental health commissions developing around Australia. There has been both literature and discussion on that. The Western Australian body is clearly a fund holder. I think any of the writers in the area would acknowledge that there are strengths of the various models. The issue is that this entity has obviously the authority vested in it in terms of having a reporting line to the Prime Minister. I would certainly emphasise, having now done numerous stakeholder discussions, the importance they place on the fact that it is not actually part of the service delivery spectrum. Time will no doubt test it. You know Professor Fels, you know a number of the commissioners. I think their independence is well documented and also their commitment to mental health reform. That is probably one of the major strengths of the governance structure, combined with the selection of the individuals.

Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS: One last question. I am conscious of time, Senator Polley. The media release, by Minister Butler, of 11 December, stated:

A charter outlining the full responsibilities and work of the Commission will be developed for released early in 2012.

talked about a charter outlining the full responsibilities and work the commission would be developed for release in early 2012.

When is that anticipated?

Ms Kruk : I must admit that I do not exactly know the press release that you are referring to. Certainly, the commission has an obligation to develop a forward-looking strategic plan, in addition to the normal operational work plans. Following my correspondence with both Minister Butler and also the Prime Minister, I think the commissioners are very strongly of the view that that needs to be done in quite a consultative manner with the major interest groups, obviously, giving carers and consumers a very strong voice in that. We have an obligation to—Georgie help me here, I think you are to get something finalised in the March draft?

Ms Harman : We have been tasked with three main areas of work. The first is the report card, to be produced by the end of 2012. The second is to develop a three-year strategic plan, a draft of which is due on 31 March this year. The third is to develop an annual operational plan, which we will aim to do as quickly as possible. The commissioners are actually having a planning day in early March—from, I think, 8 or 9 March, from memory where we will actually start to nut out the work plan.

Ms Kruk : Senator, if I may add: I think the minister has gone on the public record on this as well, but the main piece of work is obviously doing that report. The minister has also made it quite clear when he met with the commissioners at their first meeting that the major issue will be, in effect, working out where they target the other activities and what their priorities will be on their work plan. We would certainly like to do that in a consultative manner.

Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS: Perhaps you or the department could take on notice when the charter outlining the responsibilities and work will be released. Thank you.

Ms Kruk : I think Georgie has now answered that.

Ms Harman : Yes, we had to get a draft of the—

Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS: I see, sorry. It is same thing.

Ms Harman : The strategic plan.

Ms Kruk : It is the same document, just different terminology.

Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS: That is fine.

Ms Kruk : My apologies.

Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS: Thank you.

CHAIR: Can I thank the officers for appearing before us. I hope that you have enjoyed your first experience at estimates in new capacities.

Ms Kruk : Chair, thank you very much.

CHAIR: We look forward to seeing you on the next occasion when we get together for estimates.

Ms Kruk : Thank you.

CHAIR: Thank you, and I will call forward the officials from the Office of the Official Secretary to the Governor-General.