About the Royal Commission

In 2018 the Labor Party made an election promise to hold a Royal Commission into mental health, if re-elected, and to implement all of its recommendations.

After Labor won government, Premier Dan Andrews said the Royal Commission would begin in March and announced a consultation about the Royal Commission terms of reference. As part of the consultation, the government proposed 10 key themes for the Royal Commission to examine.

Terms of Reference are the ‘rules’ or scope of what the Royal Commission will examine and how it will do it. At VMIAC, we think its critical that the terms of reference include the key issues that matter to consumers, and that consumers are deeply involved in every aspect of the Commission’s process.

VMIAC Submission: Terms of Reference

On 26 January, VMIAC made a comprehensive submission about the terms of reference for the Royal Commission. Below are some highlights from our submission.

Themes proposed by the government:

Mostly these are important issues, but:

  • Lots of important issues were missed
  • Some themes need clearer definitions
  • Most themes can be improved

We were particularly critical of the theme called ‘Social isolation, anxiety, depression and trauma’. We recommended replacing this with two different themes:

  1. Social isolation, trauma and other social determinants of mental health problems. We said these issues must be separated from diagnosis, because social determinants like trauma have strong links to almost every diagnosis (not just anxiety and depression).
  2. The scope of the Royal Commission should include all mental illness diagnoses, including high and low prevalence conditions.

Ten additional themes recommended

We recommended ten additional themes that we think a Royal Commission must examine. These are all explained in the submission.

  1. Harms and abuses in acute services
  2. Legislation and human rights issues
  3. Innovative new approaches to systems, services and practices
  4. Gaps in care for trauma and abuse survivors
  5. Physical health and reduced life expectancy
  6. Recovery
  7. State responsibility to fund therapy
  8. Myths and facts about violence and mental health
  9. Discrimination and community attitudes
  10. Police interactions

Critical processes for the Royal Commission:

We recommended ways the Royal Commission can properly include, respect and support consumers.

It’s time that our expertise was put ahead of all the other people who speak on our behalf.  Like other groups who have been marginalised and oppressed (e.g., Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, women, LGBTIQ people), we can speak for ourselves. We pointed out that psychiatrists, nurses, and even family members, do not necessarily know what we really want and need.

  1. Consumer expertise should be privileged

    It’s time that our expertise was put ahead of all the other people who speak on our behalf. Like other groups who have been marginalised and oppressed (e.g., Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, women, LGBTIQ people), we can speak for ourselves. We pointed out that psychiatrists, nurses, and even family members, do not necessarily know what we really want and need.

  2. Recognise and include the diversity of the consumer community

    Consumers have vastly different experiences of mental health, diagnoses, services and rights issues. For example, it’s impossible to compare these two experiences:

    • A person with depression who is still able to work, and sees a GP for support and scripts
    • A person diagnosed with schizophrenia, who is unemployed and homeless, and has two decades of compulsory hospital admissions Each different experience matters and needs be heard.

    Each different experience matters and needs be heard.

  3. Independent, expert commissioners

    We do not support the appointment of commissioners who come from psychiatry or medicine. Like other Royal Commissions, there must be independence from the system that’s being examined.

    We argued for commissioners with expertise in the law and human rights and for one or more consumer commissioners. We argued against a carer commissioner in the absence of consumer commissioners.

  4. Consumers and the expert advisory group

    The government has already announced that a prominent psychiatrist will chair the expert advisory group. We criticised this appointment because it lacks independence.

    Now this has already happened, our submission recommended appointing a consumer co-chair to the expert advisory group, and that at least two, and preferably half, of the group should be consumers. We suggested a diverse consumer reference group be created to support and inform consumer members of the expert advisory group.

  5. Accessibility for consumers

    We said that hearings must be accessible for consumers. We outlined different accessibility barriers and suggestions for overcoming them (eg., people in regional and remote areas, people with disability, people from CALD backgrounds).

  6. Safety for consumers

    We spoke about safety issues for consumers to speak at Royal Commission hearings, including ways to respect privacy and remain anonymous, and safety issues for consumers in secure facilities.

  7. Support for consumers

We asked for a range of support options to be available for consumers who participate in the Royal Commission. We spoke about the likelihood of heavy media coverage, and that this may have impacts similar to the Marriage Equality debate: many consumers, even if not directly involved, may be distressed and should be able to access additional support.

Keep up with the latest Royal Commission news

The terms of reference and commissioners will be announced in February, and the Royal Commission will start in March.

To keep up with the latest news from VMIAC’s perspective, follow us on Twitter and Facebook or keep checking this page for updates.

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