The Morrison Government is pleased to announce new appointments to the National Mental Health Commission, including the appointment of Professor Ngiare Brown as the new Chair of the Advisory Board. Prof. Brown becomes the first Indigenous woman to lead the Board since the Commission’s inception.
The National Mental Health Commission provides advice to Government on ways to improve mental health and suicide prevention. It also works, not only in health, but in areas such as education, housing, employment, human services and social services, to promote good mental health and prevent mental illness and suicide.
Professor Brown, a Yuin nation woman from the south coast of NSW, is a senior Aboriginal medical practitioner with qualifications in medicine, public health and primary care. She is also the Founding Director of Ngaoara, a not-for-profit organisation dedicated to Aboriginal child and adolescent wellbeing which supports communities to develop strength-based approaches to breaking intergenerational cycles of trauma and disparity.
A member of the Advisory Board since 2017, Professor Brown will immediately commence as Co-Chair with the current Chair, Ms Lucinda Brogden, and then as sole Chair when Ms Brogden’s term expires at the end of July 2022. Professor Brown’s appointment is until 31 July 2027.
Minister for Health and Aged Care, Greg Hunt, said that Professor Brown’s appointment reinforces the Government’s determined efforts to improve mental health outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Straits Islanders. It also reinforces the Government’s commitment under the National Agreement on Closing the Gap.
“The Government continues to work towards zero suicides and has committed under the National Agreement on Closing the Gap to a target of significant and sustained reduction in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander suicide rates, which are currently double that of the non Indigenous population. Professor Brown’s appointment as Chair will strengthen the National Mental Health Commission’s ability to provide expert advice to Government on important reforms required to achieve these targets.”
Minister Hunt also extended thanks to the outgoing Chair, Ms Brogden, noting her exemplary service to the Advisory Board since 2014 as a Member, and most recently as Chair.
“Ms Brogden’s contribution to building a better mental healthcare system for the benefit of all Australians is an impressive legacy and we owe her a great debt of gratitude,” Minister Hunt said.
The Government has also made five appointments, including one reappointment, to the Advisory Board. Together, they represent key groups such as youth, culturally and linguistically diverse communities, and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. They also have broad expertise in the areas of lived experience of mental illness (as consumers and carers), law and justice, domestic and family violence, health economics and nursing.
Ms Kerry Hawkins has been reappointed and will continue in her role as Commissioner to 31 July 2024. Ms Hawkins was first appointed to the Advisory Board in September 2018 and is a lived-experience carer representative.
The new Commissioners, appointed until 31 July 2023, are Ms Pheobe Ho, Ms Christine Jones, Ms Heather D’Antoine, and Dr Mark Wenitong.
Ms Ho is a passionate mental health advocate, driven by her lived experience of eating disorders. Ms Ho has previous experience as a headspace National Youth Advisor and is an Australian Mental Health Leaders Fellow.
Ms Jones is a consultant solicitor and barrister, nationally accredited mediator and dispute resolution practitioner. In addition to her considerable expertise in family law, cross-cultural facilitation, and organisational dispute and family mediation, Ms Jones’ experience in the domestic and family violence, disability, and community sectors will support the Commission’s cross-government and cross-portfolio policy work.
Ms D’Antoine has extensive experience, initially as a midwife and nurse, and later as a health services manager in both Aboriginal health services and general health services. Ms D’Antoine has dedicated the past 18 years to health research and is a Distinguished Honorary Fellow at the Menzies School of Health Research.
Dr Wenitong is the Aboriginal Public Health Medical Officer at Apunipima Cape York Health Council and has extensive engagement across Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander mental health and suicide prevention sectors. Dr. Wenitong brings extensive expertise and experience to the Advisory Board in both clinical and policy work.
Assistant Minister for Mental Health and Suicide Prevention, David Coleman, said the new board members will bring diversity, extensive experience, and knowledge of mental health policy to provide strong advice on ways to improve Australia's mental health and suicide prevention system.
“The National Mental Health Commission has a significant role in advising the Government on mental health and suicide prevention reform and these new appointments will ensure that advice is backed by extensive experience, including lived experience.”
In addition to the Advisory Board appointments, Dr Michael Gardner has been appointed as the Head of the National Suicide Prevention Office, located within the Mental Health Commission.
Ms Christine Morgan, CEO of the Commission, said that the Commission was delighted with Dr Gardner’s appointment.
“Dr Gardner has exemplary academic, in-community, and government experience, which is informed by his own lived experience of mental illness and suicide.”
“Dr Gardner’s appointment is the result of an extensive robust process with a strong field of candidates. His expertise in suicide prevention in the context of whole-of-government, whole-of-person and whole-of-life policy reform will be invaluable in helping realise the Office’s national objectives,” said Ms Morgan.
The Morrison Government continues to make mental health and suicide prevention a national priority and continues to drive structural reform and real change to deliver better outcomes for all Australians by building on the 2021-22 Budget’s $2.3 billion Mental Health and Suicide Prevention Plan.
Through the 2022-23 Budget, the Australian Government is investing a further $648.6 million in the Plan, taking total investment under the Plan since 2021 22 to nearly $3 billion.
As a result of these investments, funding for mental health and suicide prevention services through the Health portfolio have increased to a record $6.8 billion in 2022-23, more than doubling since 2012-13.
Anyone experiencing distress can seek immediate advice and support through Lifeline
(13 11 14), Kids Helpline (1800 55 1800), or the Government’s digital mental health gateway, Head to Health.
If you are concerned about suicide, living with someone who is considering suicide, or bereaved by suicide, the Suicide Call Back Service is available at 1300 659 467or www.suicidecallbackservice.org.au.
Young Australians needing support can access free services through Kids Helpline (1800 55 1800), their local headspace or online through eheadspace (https://headspace.org.au/eheadspace/).