New legislation an important step towards a world-class mental health system

June 23, 2022

Victoria has reached an important milestone in its journey to create a world-class mental health system.

The new Mental Health and Wellbeing Bill was introduced in parliament this week, with the Minister for Mental Health, The Hon James Merlino, saying the philosophy behind the Bill is to ‘empower and engage with all the people who use it’.

The new Act will replace the Mental Health Act 2014. In line with recommendations from the Royal Commission into Victoria’s Mental Health System, the Act seeks to deliver tailored care that promotes and protects the rights of people living with mental illness or psychological distress.

This includes introducing key elements that will impact delivery of care. There are major changes to governance and oversights, including establishment of regional Mental Health and Wellbeing Boards, a new Mental Health and Wellbeing Commission and a Chief Officer for Mental Health and Wellbeing. The Bill also actions vital parts of the Royal Commission’s vision, including a ‘least restrictive intervention principle’, greater involvement of patients in their treatment, and increased funding through the mental health and wellbeing surcharge.

The VHA welcomes the reform and the opportunity to support the draft legislation. VHA CEO Tom Symondson attended the second reading of the Bill in parliament, following close engagement with the reform process.

‘The VHA congratulates the Victorian Government on reaching this important milestone – a critical step towards achieving the vision of the Royal Commission,’ Mr Symondson said.

‘On behalf of our members, we are particularly pleased to see the inclusion of an objective that recognises the critical role of the mental health and wellbeing workforce, as well as seeking to promote their health and wellbeing.’

‘Importantly, the Bill strikes the right balance between supporting the rights of people who engage with the mental health system, without overburdening mental health services with restrictions and red tape or risking the safety and the wellbeing of workers.’

‘Successful implementation will be vital to ensuring the Act delivers on its promise, and the VHA will continue to advocate on behalf of members and work with the Victorian Government to achieve this.’

Over the past 12 months, the VHA has advocated for greater consultation with public health and community health services and called for a slowing of the pace of reform while the health system managed the pressures of the pandemic. Member consultation informed VHA submissions on the draft Mental Health and Wellbeing Bill and the Mental Health and Wellbeing Workforce Strategy, as well as more recent targeted consultation on the Bill, ensuring the voices of the sector – those delivering mental health services – were included in the resulting policy framework.

These advocacy efforts have led to the inclusion of an objective focusing on the mental health and wellbeing workforce; mental health service providers only having to report on their adherence to the new mental health and wellbeing principles through their annual report; and changes in language around the health-led response to a mental health crisis, Mental Health and Wellbeing Commissioners and complaint handling standards.